Friday, March 31, 2006


Praying Found to Increase Performance Anxiety

It has long been known that swearing and fun poking do not help with performance anxiety, and in fact may worsen the situation. A new, long awaited study has now shown that prayer may have the same effect.

The study followed 1802 patients recovering from coronary bypass surgery. They were divided into three groups, two which were prayed for, and a third which were not. Half of the prayed for set were told that people were praying for them, and half were told they might or might not receive prayers. The prayers were delivered by three congregations, who, as required by HIPAA Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, used only the first name and first initial of the last name of patients. Notwithstanding the inevitable duplications, it was hoped that this would be sufficient for God, the angels, or the saints, as the case may be (the prayers were told to use their regular approach) to sort out the intended beneficiaries. The study cost $2.4 million, mostly privately funded. This was over and above the $2.3 million the Bush administration has spent on other prayer research since 2000.

The researchers found no differences in the incidence of complications in patients that were prayed for and those who were not. However, those that knew they were prayed for did worse, 59% having complications, compared with 51% who were told they might or might not be prayed for. This notwithstanding that the prayers all requested "healthy recovery and no complications". The authors conjectured that being aware of strangers' prayers, even on a first name basis only (and last initial), may have caused a kind of performance anxiety.

Despite the careful controls in the study, the experts said they could not overcome the largest weakness, the unknown amount of prayer each person received from friends and family, and congregations around the world who regularly pray for the sick and dying. Ethical considerations prohibited requests to those people to withhold prayer, a not uncommon problem in this type of medical study. Likewise, if the early results had shown significant improvement by those receiving prayer, it would have been necessary to terminate the study and immediately institute prayer for the remainder of the patients.

Bob Barth, Director of the Office of Prayer Research, cautioned that "research on prayer and spirituality is just getting started."

The experts failed to note another, possibly more important, weakness in the study: human nature. Suppose you are in the hospital and are told hundreds of people are praying for you. Aren't you likely to relax a little, maybe skip the regular pray regimen? Cool. It's handled. But now suppose you are told maybe nobody is putting in a word for you? You get busy, right? Now what is likely to work better? And you will probably use your full name. Just in case.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


FEMA - New Evacuation Environment To Fool Mother Nature

This just in! FEMA will no longer use shelters like the Super Dome for people fleeing a storm. Instead, they will "create an environment for all of the individuals to leave in the face of a storm instead of staying" said Terry Ebbert, a homeland security advisor, speaking at a press conference with federal officials.

The "environment" hasn't been created yet, but they hope it will be completed prior to the beginning of the hurricane season on June 1. The expert prediction is for about 31 storm events this season having winds exceeding 111 mph. As noted in the previous post, the travel trailers tip over or otherwise blow away at winds of 60 mph, or 75 mph "or so" if properly anchored. R. David Paulison, acting director of FEMA, said that moving people out would be even more challenging this time around because now there are more than 94,000 trailers housing evacuees from the last time around. He said that those folks will face mandatory evacuation even for small tropical storms. He did assure everyone that the federal government will not make the same mistakes, and that "we have a different situation now".

The environment, when created, will include an improved public education campaign and new ways to use buses, trains and airplanes. There is one problem that was not addressed. Heretofore it has been illegal to ride in travel trailers while they are being hauled, even if hauled by the federal government. Since the administration has never been willing to ignore the law of the land, this will probably require legislation, and before June 1.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


FEMA - Tipsy Travel Trailers Transit Turmoil

Well, those travel trailers seemed like a great idea. As reported here February 15, FEMA had 100,000 of those travel trailers and was ordering more. The more expensive mobile homes were sinking into the mud and couldn't be released, since it is illegal to place them in a "flood prone area". One big flood shouldn't make an area "prone", but you know how cautious government is.

The travel trailers, however, are exempt from those rules, as well as zoning and building codes because they are mobile. That is the "travel" part. So we figured when the evacuation sounds people could just hitch up. And even better, when you run out of gas along the freeway, you have a place to sleep.

There was no way anyone could have anticipated that the trailers would tip over if the wind got to 60 mph. Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security, thinks a properly anchored one won't tip over until winds reach 75 mph "or so", which is the threshold for evacuation anyway. With so many trailers along the coast, he expects to call for evacuations more frequently this year, that is, if they can get announcement ironed out. "The key", he said, "is going to be trying to figure out how to word it so people don't get a false sense of security, but people don't panic, either."

Who knew trailers were dangerous in severe thunderstorms, tornados, or hurricanes? Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says he too is worried, not only about the falling over, but about wind blown projectiles, as people perversely tended to put their trailers on their own property, next to their damaged houses and piles of debris. Who knew? Full disclosure: I have warned Maureen Dowd about her calling Chertoff and crew "chuckleheads", in violation of my patent on the Chuckles curve (see post of December 18).

Worse, now officials want to discourage people from trying to evacuate towing their trailers. Jesse St Amant, emergency preparedness director for Plaquemines Parish warned: "I imagine there are going to be some people who consider it, but I hope they think better of it. Trying to haul a travel trailer during an evacuation would be cumbersome and dangerous." I really don't see why, as long as you were careful not to drive over 59 miles per hour (you take the anchors off when towing). And that was no problem in the last evacuation.

Even the head chucklehead (damn, now she's got me doing it) says he has spoken with officials of FEMA to make sure the federal agencies are ready to help in an evacuation. He says "We are going to make sure we have those capabilities in place." If that doesn't mean hauling trailers, what does?

Monday, March 13, 2006


Access to Secret Documents Revoked by Government - Check Your Files

Just because a document was stamped "declassified" and put on open shelves at the National Archives doesn't guarantee you haven't violated the Espionage Act if you have a copy. Not if it was really secret all the time. Likewise, it might be a good idea to check your book shelves for copies of the State Department's history series "Foreign Relations of the United States". It turns out that those books have secrets in them, like that 1948 memo regarding the CIA idea to float balloons behind the Iron Curtain to drop propaganda. That memo was reclassified in 2001 under a secret 7 year government program that wasn't discovered until this year. Well, not really "reclassified". You see, when a reviewer thinks something was improperly declassified, it really wasn't declassified, so pulling it from the shelves is not really reclassifying. The law requires removals to be reported to the Information Security Oversight Office ("ISOO"), so reporting depends upon the meaning of the word "removals". These weren't.

Due to complaints from historians, the ISOO has started an audit of the "reclassification", no, well "removal", no, well, whatsamajigger ("WSMJ") program. That was after 16 documents were reviewed, actually rereviewed, actually rereviewed again, and ISOO concluded that none should be secret. However, since the ISOO doesn't have authority to release, revise, or do whatever it is that would make the documents available again, they are still secret. The head of the ISOO said that he could "urge" something though, which seems to be the purpose of the reporting requirement if any reporting was required, which it wasn't.

The ISOO said that the program had "revoked access" (there we go!) to 9500 documents, more that 8000 since President Bush took office. That includes the 1962 George Kennan telegram containing an English translation of a Belgrade newspaper article on China's nuclear program, which was improperly sent in the clear. That is close enough for government work by the 30 reviewers full time on WSMJ. It is efficient too. It only cost around $1 million to create the secure facility where they work. Not bad, considering it kept the program a secret for over 7 years. Or probably it is still a secret. In any event, you couldn't have the reviewers stumbling over all those historians.

The following was copied from a document that used to be available to the public. When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less. The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things. The question is, said Humpty Dumpty which is to be master—that's all.

Burn this.

Friday, March 10, 2006


No Access to Bush for $25,000

All these Jack Abramoff and Indian tribe news stories would have you believe that you can buy a ticket to chat up the President at a photo op for 25 big ones. Pshaw. If you believe that you have something fluffy in your bonnet.

Let's look at the facts. At Jack's request, the Winneythepoo tribe gave $25,000 to a tax lobbying group just days before meeting with the President at a gathering about taxes. The Louisiana Coushattas tribe also gave that amount just before the meeting, but no photograph of their chief hobnobbing with the pres has been released. According to the chiefs, Jacky Boy never said the donation was the price of admission, just that it was a "good investment". The White House knew nothing about the donations. No surprise there.

All that shows is that JB had enough swat left over from his peripheral good deeds to get two major lobbying clients in on a photo op. If you think the 25 Gs had anything to do with it you aren't up much on human ego. If that token a sou would get you a ticket, who wouldn't sign up? I sure would. I bet my local paper would even print the picture of the Pres seeking my opinion on some weighty matter. Probably asking too much, but I wonder if that might include a nickname? Not Charley Boy. Too southern. Chasy? Coopster? Hmmm. What would it be worth for the most powerful man in the world to say: "You are doing a heck of a job with that blog, Chuckles." Priceless.

So unless you see a big line around the block waiting to see the pres, assume you can't participate that cheap. If you are hoping for a picture to show your grandchildren, you better get in bed with someone who has slept around. Preferably in the Lincoln bedroom. You can't just buy love, well, inexpensively. You should know that.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Senate Fuss Over Travelola

The Senate is working on the lobbying rules, the fall out over what Jack Abramoff did to the Indians after it wasn't OK any more, but we certainly don't want to make it impossible for Senators to see their constituents, raise funds, or go to speaking engagements. That is exactly what is threatened by the move of a few dissenters like Senator Finegold, who calls senatorial travel on corporate jets "a serious abuse that should be stopped". He would make Senators who travel on corporate jets pay their share of the actual cost. Right now they reimburse the company at first class commercial rates if commercial flights are available to that destination. If there are no commercial flights they have to reimburse at charter rates, which are at least 5 times as much. The fact that no Senators fly to such places now proves how inhibiting the proposed rule would be.

Corporations recognize the legitimate travel needs of lawmakers, and not only furnish their jets, but send along their lobbyist to make sure things go right. US Tobacco, the top provider, says it has more requests for planes and representatives than it can handle. Number two, FedEx, always sends a representative, but rejects the notion that this gives their lobbyists undue access. A spokeswoman said "When a member of Congress is on a trip and has to go somewhere they do not want to talk to anybody on the airplane. They get on the airplane and they either read or sleep or they talk to their staff person. They don't want to talk to anybody from FedEx."

This was confirmed by the number one user of corporate planes, Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. "The way you get there is less important than what you do while you're there". Mr. Chambliss said he never spoke to a lobbyist "about any particular issue" on his trips.

As usual, the proposed rule will actually create a problem where none now exists. Note that the proposal is for a Senator to reimburse the company "his share". Right now he would usually split the cost with just one company representative which the Senator doesn't really notice on the flight. But if the company has to send more representatives to reduce the Senator's share, a crowd could be harder to ignore or sleep through. Ever try to read in that three abreast seating when your seat mates want to chat?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Big Bang Opinion Under Political Review

Detractors contend the Bush administration is anti-science, or not interested in science, and so on. Contraire! Science is at the center of national politics and the subject of intense interest.

Just look at some of the recent incidents. George Deutsch, a 24-year-old NASA public affairs officer, a presidential appointee, emailed scientists at the agency to append the word “theory” everywhere next to the phrase “Big Bang.” "The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.... This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

Dootsie was subsequently dismissed because he had inadvertently claimed on his resume that he had graduated in journalism from Texas A&M. That should not detract from his example of enthusiastic attention to scientific detail.

In another example of attentiveness, NASA headquarters deleted comments about the ultimate demise of the sun from a press release. An email from Erica Hupp said "NASA is not in the habit of frightening the public with doom and gloom scenarios." You would think that the scientists would catch on. On the February 16 post the efforts of the administration to keep from scaring the public (and polar bears) to death about global warming were noted. Pretty soon our elected officials will be spending all their time doing science instead of reducing taxes and other stuff we need.

A lot of people thought that "teach the controversy" applied only to evolution. They forget that when the Kansas school board in 1999 removed evolution from the curriculum, they also removed the Big Bang. The issue is alive, and the administration is paying attention, as they should. How else are we going to get everyone to agree on the past, and for that matter, the future?

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