Tag Archives: public health

A Message (And A Challenge) To Anti-Vaxxers

There’s a time for discussing serious politics.

There’s a time for discussing the veracity of certain scientific principles.

There’s even a time to question the very assumptions we once held without reservation.

All that said, a global pandemic is not one of those times.

I bring this up because, like so many others who have been stuck at home for months on end, my ears perk up every time I hear news about a potential vaccine for COVID-19. There’s a good reason for that. Every legitimate doctor, who doesn’t have a TV show or infomercial, says the same thing. The best and quickest way to end any pandemic is with a vaccine.

That’s not news for most people. If you passed high school biology, you know what a vaccine is and why it works. However, in the years leading up to this pandemic, there was a concerted movement against vaccines, especially for young children. It was called the anti-vaxx movement and, like many social movements relating to science, it was driven by misguided goals and faulty data.

I won’t get into the history of the movement. John Oliver already did a very comprehensive breakdown on the issue back in 2017, long before the pandemic. Here’s the video in case you need a refresher.

Even if you don’t support all the points Mr. Oliver made, I do have a message for those still skeptical of vaccines. Whether you were anti-vaccine before the pandemic or have just come to distrust modern medicine in general, I have one critical question to ask.

What’s your alternative for ending this pandemic?

It’s a legitimate question. Nearly every doctor agrees. Vaccines work. A vaccine is what will end this pandemic. If all those doctors are wrong and your side is right, then this is the best possible time to prove it.

You, whether you identify as an anti-vaxxer or are just skeptical of western medicine, have a chance to both show up the entire medical establishment and save thousands of lives. People are dying. Economies are faltering. Societies are frozen in place. The medical establishment, no matter what you think of them, are working on a solution. Where’s yours?

Now, I’m not saying the medical establishment is staffed by angels. There are many shady dealings in the modern medical industry, especially among pharmaceutical companies. Corrupt her not, however greedy their motivations might be, they’re still doing the work. They’re researching, developing, and testing potential treatments for this deadly disease.

There’s still time for the movement to do the same. If there’s any legitimacy to the anti-vaxxer’s stance, this would be their chance to demonstrate it. If anyone in this crowd, be it some renegade doctor or Jenny McCarthy, can come up with a better treatment, then they won’t just be a hero for saving so many lives. They’ll have proven their point beyond any reasonable doubt.

The time to make that statement is now. At some point, they’re going to find a treatment. It probably won’t be this year, but with lives, money, and prestige at stake, someone is going to succeed. Then, as the pandemic subsides and cases decline, what will the anti-vaxxer crowd have to say?

They’ll watch with the rest of the world as a vaccine ended a pandemic. On top of that, they’ll have sat around and done absolutely nothing to have developed another treatment. They had a chance to both save lives and show up the medical establishment, but failed. What does that say about the movement and its credibility?

That’s just some food for thought.

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PSA: Wear A Mask (And Wear Condoms)

Under normal circumstances, we shouldn’t need to remind people to be safe and responsible.

Under normal circumstances, we shouldn’t have to explain why certain safety measures are worth the inconvenience.

These are not normal circumstances. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

We’re in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Thousands more are likely to die, even after we develop an effective treatment. This is serious. There’s a time for debating the balance between public safety and personal freedom. This is not it. Viruses don’t give a damn about politics, borders, race, economic trends, or who gets cast in a Disney movie.

With that being said, I have a simple statement/public service announcement.

Wear a mask when you go out in public.

Yes, it’s not convenient or comfortable.

Yes, it’s not stylish or flattering.

Yes, it’s infuriating that we’ve let it get this bad.

It’s still a simple, sensitive recourse that can help combat this crisis. The science is clear now . Wearing a mask helps in multiple ways. For someone who has the virus, it keeps them from spewing the droplets into the air around them, thus protecting others. For someone who doesn’t have the virus, it prevents those droplets from getting into your nose and mouth.

It’s essentially a double barrier. You protect yourself and you protect others. It doesn’t require a prescription or some overpriced medicine. Most people can make an effective mask with the right materials and a sewing machine. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. It doesn’t eliminate risk, but it does reduce it considerably.

It’s not unlike condoms, another protective measure that gets caught up in politics, albeit for different reasons. Like masks for your genitals, they do the same thing. They protect your body from outside invaders. It can be just as be as inconvenient and frustrating, but it beats the alternative of getting sick or pregnant. In fact, so long as we’re learning the value of masks, I’ll supplement my announcement.

Wear a condom when you have sex.

I understand the situation is different. Protecting yourself during sex is not like protecting yourself from an air-born virus. We all have to breathe every hour of every day. That’s not the same as sex. The principle is still the same, though.

It’s a simple safety measure that’s cheap, widely available, and effective when used properly. Granted, religious zealots love to make a big fuss about them both, but that’s part of a much larger problem and during a pandemic, you can’t be picky with priorities. Again, there will be a time to deal with them. This is not it.

I’ll say it again, just to belabor the point.

Wear a mask and wear condoms.

They protect you and the people around you. It’s the easiest thing anyone can do. During a global pandemic, that’s the best thing you can do to help stem the tide and save lives. That has to be our top priority now. Too many people have already died. We can prevent more deaths if we all do our part.

 

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The (Uncertain) Future Of Movie Theaters

Many of us have fond memories of going to the movies. Whether it’s the first time you saw “Jurassic Park” and “Avengers” or the first time you got frisky with your significant other on a date, the movie-going experience has always had a certain charm to it. They’re such an indelible part of modern popular culture that it’s hard to envision modern life without them.

Then, a global pandemic hit and suddenly, we have to envision a lot of things we’ve never contemplated before. That includes the place movie theaters have in our culture and society.

Now, I’m not among the doomsayers claiming that movie theaters are doomed, although I can’t fault anyone for thinking that. The news surrounding the movie industry has been grim on an unprecedented level. As someone who often organizes his summer around which movies to see and when, it’s undeniably dire on so many levels.

However, I feel like there’s room for something better to come out of this for theaters. There’s just too much uncertainty to surmise what it is at the moment. I don’t feel that qualified to speculate. Many people much smarter than me already have. I’m bringing this up now because last weekend gave me a taste of what that future might entail.

For me, that future involves a lot less nights when I go to the movies and more nights of me renting a movie at home. That’s what I attempted last weekend. Specifically, I rented the movie “Bloodshot” on Saturday night. While the movie wasn’t exactly a huge blockbuster when it came out, I was still curious about it. Being a fan of comic book movies in general, I wanted to give it a chance.

I’m glad I did. I enjoyed the movie and not just because it was better than the reviews claimed. I enjoyed it because I got to craft my own movie-going experience. I ordered some pizza, bought a six-pack of beer, and had some skittles on the side. I basically created my own mini-movie theater in my living room and I had a genuinely pleasant time.

It also helped that it was much cheaper than going to a theater. To rent Bloodshot,” I only paid $6. That’s half the price of a regular movie ticket on a weekend. The price of pizza and snacks was considerably less, as well. I probably saved money by just renting the movie and, given the state of the pandemic-hit economy, I imagine there are many more people out there looking to save where they can.

It has me re-thinking how I’ll see movies, even after theaters open up again. My experience with Bloodshot” has me re-considering which movies I’ll see in theaters and which I’ll rent. I’ll still see big blockbuster movies like “Black Widow” and “New Mutants” in the theaters, but I’m going to be less inclined to see other movies in that setting. I just can’t justify the cost at this point.

That situation could change. I suspect that movie theaters will have to adapt their place in the movie/media complex. I don’t think it can survive solely on the success of big budget blockbusters. I also don’t think that’s good for the industry because it makes movies that bomb much more damaging to studios and theaters, alike. That means less risks, less innovation, and more generic movies made solely to turn a profit.

As much as I love those kinds of movies, there has to be room for innovative movies like “The Blair Witch Project” or “Clerks.” There also has to be a place for the bigger budget movies that Netflix has released. If you need proof of how good those movies can be, check out “Extraction.” It’s a movie that could’ve been another generic action movie in theaters, but works even better as a streaming exclusive.

In the same way Netflix is getting into the big budget movie business, some theaters are expanding beyond movies. Last year, the theater I live nearby played the Super Bowl and several major pay-per-view fights. Only a handful of other theaters did the same. I have a feeling more and more theaters will opt for something like that, if only to get more foot traffic.

The challenge is balancing all these dynamics in a world where people are less inclined to go to theaters and pay bloated ticket prices. I believe there is a way to do that. It’s just not clear what that is. I think there will still be movie theaters in a post-pandemic economy. They just won’t look or operate like they did in 2019.

It’s exciting, but distressing.

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When Crisis Brings Humor, Irony, And Religious Absurdities

Whenever the news is consistently awful, you tend to get numb to it. At some point, you just can’t bring yourself to get too worked up anymore. It’s not a good thing. Once you get numb to terrible news, you’re less inclined to do something about it. That’s not healthy for any society.

I don’t deny that the news surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 has been awful. It might be the single worst news story we’ve collectively endured in over a decade. It’s bad, especially if you’re a sports fan. It may very well get worse before it gets better.

However, it’s for that same reason that we should all laugh and take comfort in stories that expose absurdities, frauds, and assholes who don’t deserve the notoriety they usually enjoy. Of all the things that fit every one of those criteria, faith healers are right up there with creationists, snake oil salesmen, and conspiracy theorists.

Now, I could go on an extended rant about how faith healers are one of the most perverse manifestations of organized religion. I’ve gone on similar rants before on far less serious subjects. However, this is one instance where no rant is necessary. The facts alone expose the absurdity, hypocrisy, and stupidity of the whole endeavor.

It comes courtesy of a megachurch in California and a story covered by Raw Story. Rather than describe all the crazy details, I’ll just leave a link and a brief summary of the best parts.

Raw Story: ‘Faith-healing’ megachurch cancels hospital sessions over coronavirus fears

A megachurch in California that regularly conducts “faith-healing” sessions at local hospitals apparently doesn’t believe the power of prayer is strong enough to cure coronavirus.

The Bethel Church in Redding, California, which serves as the spiritual home to an estimated 6,300 weekly worshipers, announced this week that it is canceling its regularly scheduled visits to hospitals as fears of the coronavirus pandemic take hold.

Think about that for a moment. Faith healers profess the power of healing through prayer, specifically through prayers to their favored deity. They claim that their spiritual service can bring wellness to the sick while protecting the healthy. That’s the power of their faith.

Then, a virus comes along that is utterly unaffected by their dogma. It infects everyone, regardless of what they believe, and no amount of prayers can stop it. The fact that these “faith healers” have ceased going to hospitals out of fear of infection is an indirect admission that their healing doesn’t work. It also exposes just how weak it really is.

A virus is not some invading army or repressive government. It’s a tiny bit of biomatter. Despite that, it’s still strong enough to defeat any prayers that a believer may offer. No matter how ardent they may be, the virus still infects because wishful thinking is no match for harsh reality.

Now, I’m not foolish enough to believe that this crisis will put all faith healers out of business. At the very least, this offers a huge red flag to anyone whoever crosses paths with someone claiming to heal by faith. If they can’t heal you from a simple virus, then what does that say about their faith, their religion, and their motivations?

In this case, washing your hands more powerful than any prayers you could offer.

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Why You SHOULD Donate Your Genome To The Public

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Have you ever wanted to contribute to the future of humanity, but lack the engineering skills or the understanding of quantum mechanics? Well, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve getting a PHD, working for Elon Musk, or volunteering as a guinea pig for medical experiments.

As I speak, medical science is boldly pushing forward in exploring the basic building blocks of human biology. I’m not just referring to the sexy parts either. Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in in the early 2000s, we’ve entered unknown territory in terms of understanding what makes us healthy, what makes us sick, and how we go about treating it.

Beyond simply uncovering new treatments for genetic disease, of which there are many, learning about the fundamentals of human biology is critical to understanding who we are and where we’re going in the future. If the goal of every species is to adapt and survive, then learning about the human genome is akin to giving a light saber to a caveman.

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However, completing the Human Genome Project was just the first step. The primary goal of that project was to simply determine how many genes were in the human genome and how they’re organized within the 3 billion base pairs that make up our chromosomes. It’s not as much a tool as it is an instruction manual with a list of raw materials.

It was an arduous process. Between the time the Human Genome Project started in the early 90s to the time when it was completed over a decade later, the overall cost of sequencing one genome was a hefty $2.7 billion in 1991 dollars. That’s a lot for just one strand of DNA for one species. It’s hard to learn much from anything when it’s that expensive.

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Thankfully, much like early cell phones, science has refined the process and made it cheaper. In fact, it’s gotten a lot cheaper over the past decade. At the moment, it costs just a couple thousand dollars to get your genome sequenced. It’s only going to get cheaper. Some companies, in fact, hope to offer the service for less than $100. That means getting your genome sequenced may one day be cheaper than a set of premium headphones.

This is where your contribution comes in. Last last year, a man made his genome publicly available to the Personal Genome Project in the United Kingdom. That means pretty much anyone with an internet connection can access the specifics of this man’s genetics, right down to the base pair.

While that may seem like an overt surrender of privacy that the Ron Swansons of the world would despise, it’s actually a critical element in the process. It’s not enough to just understand the structure of the human genome. We also need to understand the many variations and diversity within it.

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To better understand why that’s so important, it’s important to remember just how clunky and inexact nature can be. Nature is, by necessity, a blunt instrument that is prone to many flaws. The range of genetic diversity within the human species is what helps us adapt, but it’s also prone to all sorts of flaws.

For most of human history, if not the history of life on Earth, we haven’t been able to do much about these flaws. Nature’s way of dealing with them is through the harsh, tedious, and slow process of natural selection. By learning more about the variations in the human genome, we can skip that process entirely. We can effectively maximize our genetic potential without multiple generations of trial, error, and suffering.

The tools for making use of that knowledge are already in development. I’ve mentioned CRISPR before as a possible method for treating most infectious diseases. That’s just one component in the larger field of genetic engineering, which promises to do more than just treat diseases. It could, in principle, maximize the potential of our genetics in every individual.

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By that, I don’t mean turning every human into a the kind of Übermensch that drives racists, mad scientists, and comic book villains. Like it or not, genetics can be a significant barrier for certain people in terms of realizing their physical, mental, and even sexual goals. If there’s a way to circumvent those barriers, why shouldn’t we seek it?

That’s not to say there aren’t risks. I remember Ian Malcom’s famous speech in “Jurassic Park” as much as anyone who was alive in the early 1990s. We’re not talking about creating monstrous creatures for our own amusement, though. We’re talking about the health, well-being, and suffering of countless individuals, including those alive today and those yet to be born.

In any effort to alleviate suffering and maximize human achievement, knowledge is power and information is the fuel. As it stands, we need more of the latter to improve the former. That’s why contributing your genome is one of the most meaningful things anyone not named Elon Musk can do to further this endeavor.

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That means if you have the ability to participate in the Personal Genome Project, you should seriously consider doing so. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the fundamentals of our own biology. The sheer breadth of human diversity at the genetic level is still not clear, but it’s already astounding in its own right.

By adding your genome to the mix, maybe you’ll reveal a certain trait or mechanism that will help us better understand disease. Maybe your DNA will help refine our understanding of how genetics influence our behavior, appearance, and ability to get along. Maybe doing so will reveal some unexpected heritage that you didn’t know you had.

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If you need a sexier reason for contributing your genome, then consider the possible insights our genes may offer to our sex lives. Perhaps there are genetic factors that effect our ability to form romantic bonds. Perhaps there are factors that effect the intensity, enjoyment, and satisfaction of sex. Even if you’re wary of genetic engineering, isn’t that worth exploring and refining?

There’s a lot to learn and a lot to gain. Some of us might not live long enough to experience those gains, but children alive today may still benefit. A future with less disease, less suffering, and even better sex lives is certainly a future worth working towards.

The opportunity to donate your genome is limited at the moment, but the growing demand for biotechnology and medicine is only accelerating. Even if you’re unable to contribute to the actual science, contributing your genome can be every bit as valuable. Our genome, like our lives, are precious and finite resources. Let’s make the most of them in the name of a better and sexier future.

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No, Porn Is NOT A Public Health Crisis (But Our Attitudes About It Are)

porn-industry

In his book, “Sex and God,” which I highly recommend, author Darrel Ray tells a brief, but revealing story about the topic of porn addition. It goes something like this:

One day, an anxious and distressed man walks into a therapist’s office. He tells the therapist he’s addicted to porn. He spends no less than six hours a day watching, masturbating at least three times in the process. Needless to say, this habit has completely disrupted his life.

He struggles to hold down a job. He struggles to maintain a relationship. His porn consumption is so all-encompassing that it is a serious detriment to his day-to-day living. He desperately seeks help and the therapist listens intently, hoping to help this man overcome this issue and forge a healthier life.

The next day, another anxious and distressed man walks into the same therapist’s office. He also tells the therapist he’s addicted to porn. However, when the therapist asks how much porn he consumes, the man says he watches only a few hours every week. He does masturbates, but not every day and never more than twice.

He holds down a steady job. He has a wife and kids that he loves dearly. He also comes from a deeply religious community where he’s widely respected. He’s terrified that someone will find out that he watches porn or masturbates. The guilt he feels is so serious and he desperately seeks help.

The therapist still listens intently, but has to find a way to explain to the man that the porn itself is not the problem. It’s the undue guilt he feels that’s causing all these issues.

It’s a basic story, but one that reflects the strange, eccentric nature of our attitudes towards porn. It exists. It’s legal. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, complete with some of the most heavily trafficked websites on the internet. There have been efforts to ban it in the past, but those efforts rarely succeed. Even in non-democratic countries, porn finds a way to feed the human libido.

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Despite this, there are still efforts by regressive people on both sides of the political spectrum who see porn the same way others see crystal meth. It’s not just an addictive drug. It’s one that has seriously detrimental side effects on those who use it and society as a whole. It’s one of those strange sentiments that both radical feminists and right-wing conservatives share for different reasons.

I don’t want to focus too much on the reasons for those sentiments, nor do I want to break down all the reasons why I believe they’re misguided. That’s not the reason I’m writing this article. In general, I try avoid talking about these sorts of moral crusades because, like other notable crusades, they tend to be more spectacle than substance.

That said, I have noticed the anti-porn crowd shifting their tactics in their quest to temper human desire. Rather than push for outright censorship, which is rarely popular in democratic societies, this crowd is attempting to label porn a public health crisis.

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The government of Utah, the current title holder for most porn subscriptions by state, was the first to declare porn a public health crisis back in 2016. Other states have followed, but the most notable is Florida, who managed to declare it a public health crisis after denying a ban on assault rifles.

Let that sink in for a moment. Florida says that porn is a crisis that warrants greater scrutiny than assault weapons, which actually kill people. If that doesn’t show just how flawed our attitudes are about porn and guns, then I don’t know what does.

Bear in mind that just declaring porn a health crisis has limited effect beyond bad PR for the business. A government cannot censor porn any more than they can shut down another multi-billion dollar industry with massive global reach. As CNN reported, it’s more a symbolic gesture, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s one huge act of virtue signaling. It’s as empty and worthless as any declaration can possibly be.

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While this crowd will eagerly cite studies that claim porn leads to all sorts of negative behaviors that destroy families and relationships, they’re just as eager to ignore the many flaws in those studies. They’ll also ignore data that suggests an increase in porn consumption actually decreases instances of sex crimes.

As I’ve noted before, human beings are complex, multi-layered creatures. Porn is just one of those few things that impacts a wider range of those complexities than most. It strikes at our moral values, our understanding of intimacy, our insights into sex, and our concept of love.

For some people, it has no effect. For some, it has a positive effect. For others, it has a negative effect. You could say the same thing for everything from fast food to video games to stamp collecting. When it comes to the effect, it depends on the attitude of the individual and how they’re wired.

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The republican party in America has made no secret of their attitudes towards porn. That attitude is not unlike the one of the second man who walked into the therapists office that I described earlier. It’s not the porn that made him feel so damaged. It was his attitude and overbearing guilt, which is often religiously motivated.

It’s for this reason that organizations like the American Psychological Association don’t put porn addiction in the same category they do with substance abuse. They’ve noted that the vast majority of porn consumers rarely suffer ill-effects. For some, it even provides significant benefits.

There is, however, a small subset of the population that struggles with it. By small, I mean less than 10 percent. These people are, in their own minds, hopelessly addicted to porn. However, when compared to the prevalence of alcoholism or prescription drugs, porn is hardly a fair comparison. That’s not to take away from the suffering of those people, but there is a context to it.

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Porn is not like a chemical you inject into your brain to directly evoke a particular effect. It’s not sort of mental conditioning, either. For those addicted to it, as with other addictions, there are other factors involved. It’s not the porn itself as much as it is the mentality behind it.

Maybe someone is using it because they’re just a lot hornier than the average person. Maybe it’s because they’re not getting enough sex from their current personal life. Maybe it’s because there’s a particular aspect of their sexuality that they cannot otherwise explore. Whatever their reason, the damage only gets worse when they’re racked with guilt about it.

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Everyone’s experience with porn, sex, and everything in between is different. Actor Terry Crews claimed he battled porn addiction, but absent any larger context, it’s hard to know whether porn was actually the problem or whether it was an effect of something else.

That’s the ultimate irony of calling porn a public health crisis. It attempts to label an effect as a cause, which isn’t just asinine. It’s utterly backwards and detracts from other, more substantive issues. By calling porn a crisis, it creates the sentiment that there’s this one, simple target that’s the source of all these complex troubles.

I can already spoil the outcome of that effort right now. Even if porn disappeared tomorrow, those troubles would remain. Those attitudes would continue hurting those who were addicted. It won’t solve any problems. It’ll just redirect those issues, waste time, needlessly spend taxpayer money, and further undermine our ability to be comfortable with our sexuality.

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