GOP candidate in FLA says she was abducted by aliens

A Republican candidate in Florida (where else?) says she was abducted by aliens:

Among the things she said she found out from the aliens:

▪ There are 30,000 skulls — “different from humans” — in a cave in the Mediterranean island of Malta.

▪ The world’s “energy center” is in Africa.

▪ The Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction South Miami-Dade, is actually an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

▪ “God is a universal energy.”

She also said that the aliens had mentioned Isis, though she didn’t clarify if they meant the terrorist organization or the ancient Egyptian goddess.

Big props for the Egyptian goddess reference.

When she debates her electoral challenger it will likely be quite confusing when she starts talking about illegal aliens.

To get along in Trumpland, you have to shame yourself

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, left, and Florida Congressperson Frederica Wilson, whom nobody has apparently told that dressing as a back-up singer in a Garth Brooks cover band harms her credibility.

Vanity Fair notes in a current piece by writer Tina Nguyen how we all knew that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, presented in the media as the straight shooter who is bringing order to the Trump Administration, would eventually have to shame himself in order to keep favor with the mercurial Trump and his loose association with anything resembling the truth:

All senior White House staffers duty-bound to serve President Donald Trump have, at one point in their tenure, stood in front of a crowd of reporters and delivered untruths to cover for their boss—a ritualistic torching of their integrity, as it were. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was forced to dodge accusations that he had called Trump a “moron”; National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, meanwhile, had to defend Trump after the president shared another spy agency’s intel with Russian officials. It was only a matter of time before Chief of Staff John Kelly’s turn arrived, and arrive it did, with Kelly unexpectedly taking the podium during a press briefing Thursday to exculpate Trump after he was accused of mishandling a phone call to a grieving war widow. Standing before the press, Kelly used his position as a four-star general who has lost a son in battle to take Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson to task, saying he was “heartbroken” by her comments criticizing the president, and accusing her of bragging about appropriating money for an F.B.I. building—a claim that was disproved hours later, when video of Wilson’s speech was released.

Plenty of Trump staffers have doubled down on more egregious falsehoods (beleaguered former Press Secretary Sean Spicer comes to mind), but to hear the claims coming from the sterling four-star general was a departure. Kelly, after all, entered the White House as part of a contingent of sober grown-ups, and reportedly felt duty-bound to restrain Trump when he supplanted Reince Priebus as chief of staff. Hopes rose that Kelly’s military discipline and love of country would keep the president in line. “He has a lot of credibility,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The Washington Post at the time. “Trump better not double-cross him . . . The integrity is so high.”

That reputation held after Trump’s Charlottesville press conference and speech at the United Nations, where Kelly was photographed staring dourly at the ground in apparent shame. As my colleague Gabriel Sherman reported last week, Kelly is “miserable” in his job but has remained out of a sense of duty, while carefully eyeing an eventual exit strategy. But after Wilson told reporters that Trump had upset the widow of slain solder La David Johnson, saying of her late husband, “I’m sure he knew what he was signed up for,” Kelly took it upon himself to defend the president. Rather than delivering boilerplate condemnations, he leaned in to his own experience as a father of a slain soldier to attack Wilson, who had heard Trump call Johnson’s family and relayed his comments to the public.

“I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that might still be sacred,” a visibly emotional Kelly said, describing how his first reaction, upon hearing Wilson’s remarks, was to take refuge at Arlington National Cemetery. “I hope, as you write your stories, let’s not let this last thing that is sacred—a young man or woman giving his or her life for country—let’s somehow keep that sacred. It eroded a great deal yesterday by the selfish behavior of a member of Congress.” Kelly then called Wilson’s integrity into question, saying that, during the dedication ceremony for a building honoring two slain F.B.I. agents, she had bragged in a speech about how “she got the money” for the building.

You have probably seen the video evidence, released soon after Kelly’s comments, showing that Rep. Wilson said no such thing. In fact, she said things that would make any right winger proud in praising two murdered FBI agents and her bipartisan efforts to rush through legislation on Capitol Hill naming a new building after them.

(Of course she was taking some credit for what was an honorable thing to do. That is what politicians do. They transmit to the folks who vote for them that they have done something that warrants continued support. But that is nowhere near falsely claiming to have secured funding to get something built. )

In light of all of this, Kelly’s beatification in the press as one of the lone credible people trying to bring order to a chaotic, dissembling White House begs some questions.

Has he been turned to the dark side, willing to say anything to keep his job and puff up Trump’s fragile ego? Or has he always been there and this episode brought it out?

Perhaps Kelly’s love and dedication to country, the main reason he is rumored to have taken the chief of staff job in the first place, has taught him that he needs to go along to get along and keep an easily distracted and offended Trump from veering off course over an incident that, while certainly important to Wilson and La David Johnson’s family, is only another blip in the President’s continued campaign to bamboozle everyone into not paying attention to the real harm he is doing behind the scenes of the chaos he creates and craves.

It says much that is terrible that we live in a time when we have a presidency wherein the ability to tell, and further, easily disprovable lies is a chief job description for even Marine generals with a long history of rectitude.

 

Desperate Quest For Herpes Cure Launched ‘Rogue’ Trial

A screenshot of U.S. researcher William Halford’s blog, where he posted updates about the St. Kitts offshore clinical trial. Pictured here with Halford, right, is his business partner, Agustín Fernández III.

Controversial drug trial which broke all the rules on patient safety has among its investors Trump supporter — and FDA critic — Peter Thiel.

As 20 Americans and Brits flew to a Caribbean island for a controversial herpes vaccine trial, many of them knew there were risks.

The lead U.S. researcher, William Halford, openly acknowledged he was flouting Food and Drug Administration regulations in the consent forms they signed. He would be injecting them with a live, though weakened, herpes virus without U.S. safety oversight.

Still, many of them felt upbeat when they arrived on St. Kitts and Nevis in the spring of 2016. They had struggled for years with debilitating, painful herpes. Halford, the creator of the vaccine, sounded confident.

Maybe they could be cured.

“It felt like paradise,” one of the participants recalled. “Or therapy combined with vacation.”

A year later, their optimism has turned to uncertainty. Memories of kicking back in a Caribbean hotel during the trial have been overshadowed by the dread of side effects and renewed outbreaks.

But they can’t turn to Halford, a Southern Illinois University professor. He died of cancer in June.

They also can’t rely on his university, which shares in the vaccine’s patent but says it was unaware of the trial until after it was over. Because the FDA didn’t monitor the research, it can’t provide guidance. Indeed, there is little independent information about what was in the vaccine or even where it was manufactured, since Halford created it himself.

At a time when the Trump administration is pushing to speed drug development, the saga of the St. Kitts trial underscores the troubling risks of ambitious researchers making their own rules without conventional oversight.

“This is exactly the problem with the way the trial was conducted,” said Jonathan Zenilman, an expert on sexually transmitted diseases at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. “These people are supposed to have rights as human subjects, but now there’s nowhere for them to go. We may never know if this vaccine worked, didn’t work or, even worse, harmed anyone.”

Rational Vaccines, the U.S. company co-founded by Halford, still hopes to market the vaccine. It touted success online and to other researchers, prompting millions of dollars of recent investment, including from a company run by Peter Thiel, a backer of President Donald Trump.

Thiel, a PayPal co-founder who has excoriated the FDA as too bureaucratic, declined to answer questions about his investment, which occurred after the trial had ended.

Kaiser Health News interviewed five of the 20 participants in the clinical trial and several associates of Halford.

The participants agreed to speak on condition of anonymity because they don’t want to be known as having herpes. Most also said they feared retaliation from Halford’s company but hoped by speaking out some of their concerns might be addressed.

Their accounts, along with documents, a video and emails obtained by KHN from the offshore trial, pointed to what experts said were serious irregularities:

Halford did not rely on an institutional review board, or an “IRB,” which monitors the safety of research trials. The company has said it doesn’t know where Halford manufactured the vaccine, so it isn’t known whether he followed U.S. government guidelines when transporting it. Halford offered booster shots of the unapproved vaccine inside the United States. FDA regulations prohibit such injections.

“The FDA goes after these types of violations,” said Holly Fernandez Lynch, a lawyer and assistant professor who specializes in medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “[Researchers] can be prosecuted.”

SIU, however, did little to discourage Halford. The university, which has a financial interest in the patent, said it learned of “the concerns” only after his death. In August, after KHN asked about the trial, the medical school’s IRB launched an investigation into whether Halford violated U.S. regulations or university rules.

In a statement to KHN, Rational Vaccines acknowledged that Halford “discussed a myriad of concerns … including the potential need for booster shots.”

“Unfortunately, Dr. Halford is no longer with us to address all the ways in which he may have investigated his concerns …,” stated the company. It added, “We nevertheless wholeheartedly intend to continue his line of investigation in a clinical setting to international good clinical practice standards.”

Racing Against Time

Halford first broke with scientific protocols in 2011, shortly after he was diagnosed with nasal cancer and treated with chemotherapy and radiation, according to an account he later posted on his blog.

By then, Halford was in his 40s and had worked almost a decade at SIU’s School of Medicine.

Halford, who did not have herpes, realized his cancer might not give him much time. If he submitted to the FDA’s oversight, it would take years, he reasoned in his account.

He decided to become his own research subject, injecting himself more than two dozen times with the vaccine.

“There is an ongoing herpes pandemic that demands the scientific community’s attention today, not tomorrow,” he wrote in his blog, which by his count received thousands of hits.

The experiments on himself, Halford believed, demonstrated the vaccine was safe.

In 2015, Halford set his sights on launching an offshore clinical trial.

However, his unorthodox approach made some of his peers recoil.

“He sat in my kitchen and tried to convince me to join him,” said Terri Warren, a nurse practitioner in Oregon who was approached by Halford in 2016 to help with the trial. “He believed so firmly in his vaccine. He said, ‘Think of all of the herpes patients who are suffering.’”

Warren had previously worked with Halford on a different, IRB-approved trial studying a new blood test to diagnose herpes. This time, she said, she became concerned about his methods, including how he was selecting his participants.

“I told him absolutely not,” she recalled. “I didn’t want anything to do with it. I felt bad for him because he was dying, but I thought he had lost perspective.”

But Halford did find backers, including Hollywood filmmaker Agustín Fernández III, whose credits include action films and an award-winning documentary.

Fernández recently declined to respond to questions. But in an earlier interview this year with KHN, he said he initially contacted Halford to try to help someone he knew who was battling the disease. He said he didn’t have herpes, or a background in science.

Fernández, however, became such a believer in Halford, he said, he allowed Halford to inject him with the vaccine. In 2015, he co-founded Rational Vaccines with Halford and invested his own money into the company. That same year, the company licensed two patents related to the vaccine from SIU.

“I felt like Bill had the answer, and we had to make sure he got a chance to prove it,” Fernández said.

‘Finally … Someone Who Cared’

As soon as news began spreading in the tight-knit herpes online community that Halford may have a cure, he began hearing from the most desperate who asked to be included in any future research.

For many, herpes is a mild disease that can be controlled by antiviral medicines. However, for some, it becomes a life-altering disease that destroys any hope of intimate relationships.

To several of the participants, Halford was an empathetic scientist who refused to give up on finding a cure.

“After dealing with doctors who had no answers, it felt like you were finally talking to someone who cared and could help,” said a participant in his 30s from the South who had described the trial as “paradise.”

There were other perks as well.

Rational Vaccines told some participants they would be reimbursed for their flight and hotel expenses. If they got through the entire trial, they would be given an extra $500.

As Halford organized two groups of 10 participants, he instructed them on drawing their own blood for the trial, according to a video filmed in a medical lab.

He proceeded with the trial from April to August 2016, giving participants three shots over three months.

Once in St. Kitts, many of them quickly bonded with one another and Halford. Even though they ranged in age from their 20s to 40s and came from different regions, they had the disease in common. They commiserated about how herpes had wreaked havoc on their lives.

“It was a relief to meet people who understood what we were talking about,” the Southerner said.

But other participants now say they noticed some troubling signs.

They received the injection in a house in St. Kitts, not a medical clinic.

Halford, whose gaunt frame made his cancer apparent by then, at times appeared disoriented.

Fernández, a constant presence, was introduced to them by name and made some of them uncomfortable when they socialized over drinks and dinner.

Some patients became anxious about their participation soon after receiving the vaccine.

One, a web developer in his 20s, felt ill after receiving just one dose.

“I experienced tiredness and ringing in my ears,” said the web developer, who reported the feelings along with “disequilibrium and slurred speech” continue to this day.

He said he decided not to return to St. Kitts for follow-up shots after Halford dismissed his symptoms as arising from a common cold.

Another participant, a Colorado woman in her 40s, said she told Halford she experienced flu-like aches and pains and tingling and numbness soon after the second shot. The symptoms were followed by an “excruciating” 30-day outbreak of herpes.

“I have new symptoms every day,” that woman later wrote Halford in an email exchange provided to KHN. “This is terrifying.”

Halford initially dismissed her symptoms, speculating they were caused by a mosquito-borne virus, she said.

She returned for the third shot but had her doubts. Halford and Fernández met her at a café to talk about her concerns, she recalled.

“[Fernández] kept saying, ‘You signed the consent form. You knew the risks,’” said the Colorado woman, who said Halford then removed her from the trial.

Another participant, a Californian in his 30s, said he went through with all three shots despite feeling a “terrible pain in my stomach.”

Halford then told him he had noticed in his research of mice that another version of the virus entered the gut of the mice and killed them, the participant said.

“I then thought maybe this is dangerous,” said the Californian, whose pain went away but his outbreaks did not.

Warren, the nurse practitioner in Oregon, said two participants tracked her down as a herpes expert. She said that they described possible side effects from the vaccine.

Halford had told participants he would follow up on their reactions to the vaccine for a year, according to the consent form. But he stopped sending questionnaires to the two participants who said they had been dropped from the trial.

Warren said that even when researchers stop administering a vaccine because of possible side effects, known as adverse events, they have a duty to track the subjects’ reactions.

“There is no doubt that these were adverse events that should have been reported,” Warren said.

Rational Vaccines did not respond to questions about the complaints. In previous public statements, it acknowledged that one of the 20 participants was concerned about possible side effects.

Some participants also wonder where Halford made the vaccine and how he transported it to St. Kitts.

Halford told his business partner he had made it outside of the United States, without disclosing where.

After the trial ended, some participants began complaining that the vaccine hadn’t worked. Halford and Fernández offered booster shots, according to four participants.

One participant, a man in his 40s who was also from California, declined to get the booster. He said he decided to go back to antiviral drugs when his outbreaks returned.

The Southerner said he agreed to allow Halford to give him booster shots at an office in Springfield, Ill., where Halford worked.

“It was between me and him,” said the participant. “He was doing me a favor.”

“I don’t know if it was a different strain or what, but he gave me a set of double boosters at the same time, one in each leg,” recalled the Southerner, who said he didn’t have records of the injections. He said he received them as Halford continued to collect data for the trial.

Months later, he said, he returned a second time for another set of boosters.

Courting Support Without Results

Halford, meanwhile, tried to persuade a U.S. scientific journal to publish a lengthy manuscript detailing the results of both his experiments on himself and his offshore trial. Halford put the cover letter on SIU letterhead.

In December 2016, only months after the trial had ended, Halford’s paper was rejected by the journal.

“This manuscript is partly a vision, partly science, and partly wishful thinking …,” said one reviewer for the journal. “Neither safety nor efficacy has been demonstrated by the data presented.”

Halford asked his former doctoral adviser, Daniel Carr, to attend a Rational Vaccines advisory board meeting. Carr, a University of Oklahoma Health Services Center professor, said he and other invitees heard glowing reports about the trial.

Carr agreed in May to present the trial data at a conference of herpes experts in Colorado.

A published summary of the event listed Carr as a lead author, though he said he wasn’t involved in the research.

“I just did it to help him out,” said Carr, who asked for his university’s permission to be on Rational Vaccines’ advisory board and is waiting for word on federal funding to study another version of Halford’s vaccine. “I also presented it because I thought that the scientific community would find it interesting.”

Despite its patent agreement reached in 2015, SIU said it was in the dark about Halford’s offshore activities until October 2016 — months after the trial had ended.

Halford, meanwhile, promoted his work at events attended by university officials.

In October 2016, Halford was a keynote speaker at an SIU-sponsored technology and innovation event to discuss his vaccine work.

Then, in April 2017, Halford and Rational Vaccines held a press conference to trumpet an investment pledge by Thiel’s company, according to materials handed out at the event. University officials, including SIU’s medical school dean, were invited speakers.

The university’s IRB is continuing its investigation, which includes scrutinizing whether Halford used university resources.

“If there are areas of concern, SIU will report those findings promptly to Department of Health and Human Services,” said SIU spokeswoman Karen Carlson. “We will also communicate our findings with the scientific community and the public.”

FDA spokeswoman Lauren Smith Dyer declined to comment on the trial except to say the FDA does not have jurisdiction over offshore trials that don’t seek agency approval.

Dyer, however, added that the export from the United States of an unapproved vaccine for research use and the injection of it on U.S. soil would be within the agency’s jurisdiction.

Even so, some participants don’t regret taking part in the trial.

“When you feel like a disease has ruined your life, you become desperate,” said the Southerner, who believes the boosters have lessened his outbreaks. “Some people contemplate suicide. You’re willing to do almost anything.”

Other participants still hope for some sort of accountability.

“I feel like without a doubt that my symptoms were vaccine-related,” said the Colorado woman. “I feel like it triggered something that I’ll have for the rest of my life.”

No matter what, experts said, the university has a responsibility to conduct an in-depth investigation. So far, the university has not reached out to participants who spoke to KHN.

“This researcher went rogue,” said Fernandez Lynch, the lawyer who specializes in medical ethics. “It’s true that universities can’t stand behind their researchers watching their every move. But when one of their own goes rogue, a university should launch an aggressive investigation, interview the participants and make sure it never happens again.”

KHN’s coverage of end-of-life and serious illness issues is supported by The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and its coverage related to aging & improving care of older adults is supported by The John A. Hartford Foundation.

Imagine a world where you had a remedy for bad cell and cable speeds

Anyone with cell phone or cable service knows that the transfer rates they advertise to get you to sign up (up to 100 Mbps download!) almost never match what you get in the real world. That is why they use those magic words “up to” since it allows them to say to you that they never promised you would get those actual speeds, even if they charge you extra for them.

As this article I ran across today notes, the UK is taking steps to give its citizens some recourse if the speeds they advertised to sign you up for that contract fail to materialize:

Internet users are to be granted more rights on connection speeds as [the UK] imposes tougher rules on how ISPs advertise broadband services.

The proposals give consumers the right to exit contracts penalty-free if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum.

[British government regulator] Ofcom says there is a mismatch between what is advertised, and the speeds customers receive.

But experts say speeds are affected by different factors, and are not strictly a measure of connection to a device.

A public consultation is currently being conducted until 10 November.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of [the consumer advocacy group] Citizens Advice, said: “Many people seek our help each year because their slow and intermittent broadband service falls short of what their contract promised.

“For most people, a reliable broadband connection is a necessity, so when they don’t get what they’ve paid for they should always have a quick and easy way out of their contract.”

She said: “These changes are an important step in giving consumers more power to hold their broadband provider to account for poor service.” Ofcom’s existing broadband code of practice requires ISPs to provide consumers with an estimate of the internet speed they can expect from their service.

If the proposed rules pass consultation, broadband providers will need to be much more specific about the speeds customers will receive and will have to set a guaranteed minimum speed for each package.

This could mean current estimates of “up to 17Mbps” become “a minimum of 10Mbps”.

If the speed falls below the guaranteed minimum, under the new rules, the ISP will have one month to fix the problem, and if it cannot be fixed, the customer can terminate the contract without penalty.

With that simple change — changing the words “up to” to “a minimum of” the ISPs would be forced to account for the actual speeds you get on your service.

So what are the chances of these types of rules being forced on similar companies in America?

Don’t hold your breath. As you can see from the screen cap graphics from OpenSecrets.org accompanying this article, the telecom industry gave just under $26 million in political contributions to candidates for federal office in 2016 alone, almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

In Washington money talks, and the telecoms are in the drivers’ seats on Capitol Hill until we consumers get our act together and decide to hold both parties accountable for the ways they allow cable and cellular companies in this country to saddle Americans with some of the most expensive service in the world for the least amount of reliable bandwidth. 

The mind-boggling science of gender

We’ve come a long way from the recent time when scientists insisted they had hard evidence that boys were smarter than girls and that science knew why girls liked dolls and boys liked trucks and women could never be soldiers or businesspeople.

Gender and sex difference are hotly debated both in the body politic and in academia, helped along by an increasingly vocal and defiant trans community and its supporters.

The physical sex-related differences in the brain, when corrected for a body mass ratio — a two percent difference in the gray matter to white matter ratio, for example — are thought to be not totally insignificant, but also not convincing evidence of an all-important dimorphic brain difference between men and women.

Yet some differences exist which are still a mystery.  Early onset neurological disorders — autism spectrum, attention deficit, etc. — are more common in boys. Primarily late onset diseases — including depression and anxiety — are seen more in girls.

Adding to the social mix are trans people and their advocates, some of whom insist that gender (as opposed to sex) is a totally made-up construct which should be done away with entirely — including the pronouns long used to identify gender for boys and girls, women and men.

Into this fray steps the venerable magazine Scientific American with a special issue for September devoted to research into sex and gender.

I finally got around to reading mine today and it blew me away. Anyone not steeped in this research already who reads this issue with an open mind will come away having learned something.

Topics include:

The New Science of Sex and Gender
Why the new science of sex & gender matters for everyone

Promiscuous Men, Chaste Women and Other Gender Myths
The notion that behavioral differences between the sexes are innate and immutable does not hold up under scrutiny

Is There a “Female” Brain?
The debate over whether men and women have meaningfully different brains could have profound implications for health and personal identity

When Sex and Gender Collide
Studies of transgender kids are revealing fascinating insights about gender in the brain

Beyond XX and XY: The Extraordinary Complexity of Sex Determination
A host of factors figure into whether someone is female, male or somewhere in between

Doctors Must Dig into Gender Difference to Improve Women’s Health Care
Researchers and doctors must dig deeper into gender differences before they can provide women with better treatments

Lessons from before Abortion Was Legal
Before 1973, abortion in the U.S. was severely restricted. More than 40 years later Roe v. Wade is under attack, and access increasingly depends on a woman’s income or zip code

The Brilliance Paradox: What Really Keeps Women and Minorities from Excelling in Academia
How a misplaced emphasis on genius subtly discourages women and African-Americans from certain academic fields

Coding for Gender Equality
Early intervention is crucial to close the gender gap in computer science

Rewriting the History of Women in Science
Turning online harassment into a force for good

How to Close the Gender Gap in the Labor Force
As more women contribute to the economy, life gets better for everyone. Why are the barriers to opportunity so hard to change?

The Persistent Problem of Gender Inequality
The gender gap remains a global phenomenon

Why Girls Are Coming Back in Some Asian Countries after Neglect
Traditions that favor sons in Asia—resulting in millions of dead or neglected girls—have started to change.

Neuroscientist Dr. Daphna Joel, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, says her work suggests that there are not so much male and female brains as there are some combination of both depending on the person.

Whether these differences she found are hereditary, due to normal genetic variability or affected by outside social forces is anyone’s guess at this point, along with what they mean.

Some researchers disagree with her findings — in the way scientists disagree with one another, not in the way people fight in comments sections online — saying her research is skewed. Yet even among some who say her methods need to be refined to be more scientifically rigorous, there is some agreement that she may be onto something.

Another article, on the latest research into trans kids, reinforces the notion that, instead of learning to think they are trans — the “poisoning the minds of little kids with trans ideas” concept — tiny children can begin showing important and lasting cross-gender behaviors without family members ever pushing them to like “girl things” or “boy things.” Sometimes in spite of parents pushing mightily to prevent their small sons from wanting to go as a princess for Halloween.

Unfortunately, the magazine is behind a paywall. (Good magazines are like that.) To read it you need either a subscription  or to buy the single issue on the newsstand (or online here).

As a writer I’m not ready to give up my gender pronouns, and I’m not sure I ever will be. There is too much that is important in works of non-fiction and fiction that can be transmitted by their use. I also think it is too soon and politically self-defeating to push this issue too far in the public’s consciousness. 

Nonetheless, I think most people with open minds will find the magazine worth the time and effort to shell out a few bucks for the single issue.

Making it seem as if anyone said anything you want

I was having a conversation recently with some acquaintances, one of whom is a doctrinaire Tea Party type — let’s call him TP — and the subject of the Civil War came up.

“The Civil War was not fought over slavery,” TP said.

“If the president who was shot in the back of the head in a theater could speak, he might differ with you,” I said. 

“No, it’s true,” TP said. “Lincoln said it in a letter to some newspaper editor.”

What TP was referring to was the Aug. 22, 1862, letter from President Lincoln to the the famed newspaper editor Horace Greeley, in which Lincoln stated: 

“If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

The letter, when read verbatim, out of context, to someone not familiar with all that was going at that time could then be used as it is being used now by Tea Partiers looking to defend Confederate monuments and the honor of the Confederate cause.

Of course, Lincoln was readying to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation in just just four months on New Year’s Day 1863, an action which should have forever put to rest any notion of whether the war eventually ended up being about slavery in Lincoln’s mind. 

His letter to Horace Greeley is widely seen by historians as Lincoln playing politics, trying to convince everyone that, no matter how much of a tyrant the Confederacy tried to say he was, he really just had the best interests of the Union in mind. (Some also believe that words such as these by Lincoln were anticipatory in trying to lessen the blow of the Emancipation Proclamation.)

Yet he we are 154 years later and the forces who would defend the Confederacy for whatever reasons are using Lincoln’s words (all just in text form, mind you) to convince entire swaths of the population that he really didn’t care about freeing the slaves.

It really is so easy to do in an age where people on both sides of the political divide increasingly get their news only from sources which match their political sensibilities, left or right.

As I listened to this acquaintance continue to try to convince me that I was wrong about the Civil War, I was taken back to an episode of the Radiolab podcast I heard this summer, and meant to mention in this space then, but never got around to it.  (You can just hit the play button below to listen to it yourself.)

The hosts of Radiolab said of making this episode that the more they got into the subject matter, the more if sent chills down their spines. I thought that might be hyperbole when I first read the words.

Not so after I listened to the podcast, titled “Breaking News.” I thought it was worth sharing with you if you did not get a chance to hear it a couple months ago.

Imagine if it were this easy to get anyone you want to say anything you want by using just an audio recording of their voice.

If you the think the news is broken now and people believe strange things they read, just wait until everything you say in audio recordings can be changed as easily as moving around some text in a transcript.

No, New York Times, Irma predictions were not wrong

The graphic above is from the NY Times home page just now. Notice the suggestions that storm predictions were wrong. They were not.
 
It’s important to note this not only to point out that whomever writes the Times home page does not have a clear understanding of hurricane path prediction, but also important because people living on the West Coast of Florida also did not understand these same concepts and might be in danger because of it.
 
A meteorologist on CBS-N (don’t recall his name) made a very good point last night about the media reporting on this issue.
 
The forecasted path of a hurricane is usually represented on maps by a single line with points of time along the line where the hurricane might be.
The predicted path of a hurricane (black line with circles) and the wider cone of a possible path in which all residents should be ready to evacuate.
 
The cone of the storm’s path is the likely area a storm will affect. It is represented by, just as it sounds, a cone on the map. It is less specific than the single line but is no less important.
 
Hurricane forecasters have always said the cone of the storm — the area most likely to be hit hardest — was different than the apparent path at any given point in time.  The Gulf side of Florida was always included in Irma’s cone. Using that information, residents of the state’s Gulf coast should have been ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, even if they were not under an evacuation order because early on the storm looked to be heading up the east coast of the state. But western Florida was always considered high risk.
 
The sub-heading on the Times home page both misrepresents the actual storm predictions, but also does a disservice because it reinforces the notion that science is somehow to blame for not knowing the shift of the storm from east to west.
 
Science had predicted that a hit to the Gulf side was highly possible. Because people did not understand that some people are at additional risk.

Drone footage of nearly deserted Miami Beach

Normally bustling Miami Beach has a pre-apocalyptic feel to it in the drone footage of an area waiting for Irma to make landfall.

Signing your rights away over Equifax data breach?

People are insisting that enrolling in Equifax monitoring if you are affected by the company data breach takes away your right to sue. The truth is more nuanced.

As did many Americans, I went to equifaxsecurity2017.com to see if my personal information was compromised in the company’s massive data breach that exposed millions of Americans’ credit information to cyberhackers

The web site told me it does not appear my information was part of the breach.

Sigh of relief. Millions will not be so lucky.

If my information had been part of the stolen data,  I can sign up for free credit monitoring through Equifax’s TrustedID, a service that usually costs you a hefty fee. 

But soon a story began circulating that, should you choose to sign up for TrustedID, you were also signing away your legal rights to sue the company over the data breach and would instead have to avail yourself of forced arbitration with the company.

The clause in the terms you agree to when you sign up for TrustedID at any time as a paying or free customer says this:

This arbitration will be conducted as an individual arbitration. Neither You nor We consent or agree to any arbitration on a class or representative basis, and the arbitrator shall have no authority to proceed with arbitration on a class or representative basis. No arbitration will be consolidated with any other arbitration proceeding without the consent of all parties. This class action waiver provision applies to and includes any Claims made and remedies sought as part of any class action, private attorney general action, or other representative action. By consenting to submit Your Claims to arbitration, You will be forfeiting Your right to bring or participate in any class action (whether as a named plaintiff or a class member) or to share in any class action awards, including class claims where a class has not yet been certified, even if the facts and circumstances upon which the Claims are based already occurred or existed.

That seems to me as if it might force you into arbitration over any potential damage done to you by the data breach, instead of you retaining the legal right to insert yourself into any single or class-action lawsuit which might arise over the incident.

The language also seemed fuzzy enough for New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to get involved in discussions with company officials over the clause.

After those talks, Equifax added this to their web site:

The arbitration clause and class action wavier included in the TrustedID Premier Terms of Use applies to the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection products, and not the cybersecurity incident.

So the forced arbitration clause does apply to anyone who signs up for TrustedID at any time, and it does indeed require you to choose forced arbitration over lawsuits against that service EXCEPT for the data breach incident in this week’s headlines

This incident speaks to one important issue: Absent any meaningful leadership on the national level on these consumer financial issues in a Congress (Democrats and Republicans) that is mostly in the pockets of Wall Street, certain state attorneys general continue to be the watchdogs that protect millions of us from the worst abuses of industry.

If you want to know more about the issues of arbitration (which can be a good thing) and forced arbitration clauses (which can be bad things) read this excellent information from the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Now you know

I can see a couple of my more fashion high-minded friends doing this to someone before those friends have had their coffee. 

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