P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism
PLA is a fair and balanced Journal published by Dwight Meredith with a Focus on Politics, Law and Autism
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Friday, July 11, 2003
I never took many science classes in college. I was always afraid that the science classes would just be too hard for my brain to handle. Natasha at The Watch is completing her botany class. How has her brain held up?
Note: Approaching the End (of my botany class), and the Season of Testing. I now know an appalling number of things about plants, but not nearly enough yet, and I'm working on a plan to use them to take over the world. Or maybe save it. I haven't decided.
Natasha, if you decide to take over the world, I recommend using the Pottsylvania Creeper.
Tucker Carlson of CNN’s Crossfire promised that if Senator Clinton’s Living History sold more than a million copies he would eat his shoes. Living History has passed the million mark in sales leaving Carlson in a difficult position.
Senator Clinton graciously let Carlson off the hook by appearing on Crossfire and presenting him with a chocolate cake baked in the shape of a shoe. A right wing-tip, of course.
Carlson responded to Senator Clinton’s kindness by comparing her to the Cambodian murderer Pol Pot.
Jesse of Pandagon notes that Tucker Carlson is the type of guy who would come to a dinner party and remark "Excuse me, but this filet mignon is so divine I wouldn't care if Hitler made it!"
Carlson has a lot of class, all third.
The Poorman gets interviewed by Tim Russert on Meet the Press. Just read it.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Forced Vaccinations – Anthrax
My previous discussions of forced vaccinations focused on infant vaccines and the risk of autism. That is not the only issue with regard to forced vaccinations.
The military is forcing soldiers to be vaccinated against anthrax. According to this report, the military’s experience has shown that 84% of recipients of the vaccine have experienced “minor reactions” to the vaccine. More troubling is the following:
A September 2002 U.S. General Accounting Office survey of 1,253 soldiers who received the anthrax vaccination found that … at least 24 percent had major multiple "systemic" reactions, the latter more than 100 times higher than the estimate of the manufacturer.
First Lt. Erick Enz, a Marine helicopter pilot, refused to be vaccinated. He faced a court martial and pled guilty to disobeying the order of a superior. Enz was sentenced to seven months in prison (he faced a possible sentence of five years) as well as expulsion from the Marine Corps.
While the Marine Corps can not have officers deciding which orders they intend to obey, my question is how did the Corps decide that 24% “major multiple systemic” reactions was an acceptable price to pay for the benefits of anthrax vaccinations?
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Economic Performance and Political Party of the President
Jane Galt has an interesting post responding to the listing of employment growth by Presidents. The list she cites is similar but not identical to the list I posted. My list:
1) Roosevelt (1933-45): +5.3%
That list is suggestive because job growth was higher under all six Democratic Presidents than under any of the seven Republican Presidents.
Jane rightly argues that too much should not be made from a listing of a single measure of economic performance. She also argues that the data could be misleading for a variety of reasons.
I am pleased with the direction of the argument. Not so long ago, folks like Glenn Reynolds were arguing that “the left’s” economic policies had been shown to be “utterly wrong”. Now the argument is whether the data clearly shows Democratic superiority on economic issues.
There is an old saying in the law that “I’ll take the judgment, you can have the appeal.” In the political/economic debate, I am happy to have the data support my position and allow others to explain why the data is misleading.
I found several of Jane’s arguments to be interesting. For instance, at one point she seems to argue that the results of the job growth data could be the result of random chance:
Just to point out that when you see a little statistic like this, there's usually a bigger picture you're missing. And especially with presidents, where the meaningful data set is far too small to separate out the effects of chance from the effects of policy, it's very hard to draw meaningful conclusions.
While I do not disagree with Jane’s larger point that it is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from small data sets, what is striking about the job growth data is how clean it is. Job growth was higher under every Democratic President than under any of the seven Republican Presidents.
How large is the possibility that such a dramatic separation would occur through random chance?
If the ranking of a president on the job growth list were random, then the chance that a Democrat would occupy the top spot is 6 in 13. Once that position is filled, the chance that a Democrat would occupy the second spot is 5 in 12. The third spot is 4 in 11 and so forth.
Thus, the probability that every Democrat would outrank every Republican by operation of mere chance is the product of each of those six chances. If my math is correct, the probability of every Democrat outranking every Republican through random chance is about 0.05% or about a 1 in 2,000 underdog. It is not impossible but it is very unlikely that random chance caused the rankings.
Next Jane argues that external factors may have had more influence on the rankings than policy. She is certainly right that external factors may be influential. Jane mentions the following:
Reagan was the unlucky bastard whose Fed chief had to shut down the party by raising short term interest rates to 20% to get the inflation under control, which sadly hurt his employment numbers. Eisenhower too had to induce a recession to tamp down inflation. GBI got the S&L crisis and GBII got a collapsing asset price bubble.
Putting aside the fact that Paul Volker was appointed as Chairman of the Fed by Jimmy Carter, every president faces external factors. Carter, Nixon and Ford faced rising energy prices as OPEC exercised its muscle. Clinton inherited high budget deficits, spiraling health care costs and faced both Asian and Mexican financial crises. It is the job of Presidents to overcome external problems, not use them as excuses for poor performance.
Next Jane argues that the great productivity boom may explain the rankings:
In this century, Democratic power coincided with the long post-war economic boom (and please don't bore me with the "Democratic policies caused it" theory of the boom, since even uber-partisan Democratic economist Paul Krugman will tell you the boom was the result of rising productivity.)
In comments, Jane identifies the years of the productivity boom as 1940-1970. That suggests that Presidents Nixon (mostly), Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II held office after the productivity boom. The rankings of job growth under those Presidents continues to have both Democrats (Carter and Clinton) ahead of each Republican (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II).
The probability that random chance would rank the two Democrats ahead of each of the five Republicans, in the period after the productivity boom, is less than 5%.
Finally, Jane argues that Democratic Presidents may perform well on a measure of job growth but suffer on other measures:
It (Democratic Presidential terms) also coincided with highly expansionary Keynsian monetary and fiscal policy that pushed down unemployment at the expense of creating inflation.
If Jane is correct that Keynesian policies by Democratic presidents explain the job growth rankings but have other bad economic consequences, then we should be able to easily identify those consequences.
One of the hallmarks of Keynesian economics is the use of deficit government spending to “prime the pump.” Have Democratic presidents submitted budgets that resulted in greater deficit spending than Republicans?
No, they have not. Last fall I looked at budget deficits by the party of the president submitting the budget for the period of 1962-2001. My conclusion:
The twenty years of budgets prepared by Republican presidents increased the national debt by $3.8 trillion. The average yearly deficit under Republican budgets was $190 billion.
How about inflation? Once again, last fall I looked at inflation under budgets submitted by presidents of both parties from 1962-2001. My conclusion:
For the twenty years in which Republican presidents submitted a budget, the inflation rate averaged 4.96%.
Jane’s larger point is that there is a weak link between presidential policies and any one measure of economic performance and, therefore, we should be very careful not to place too much emphasis on any one data set. Jane is surely correct on that point.
After I became interested in the issue of economic performance by the political party of the president, I looked at unemployment, inflation, GDP growth, overall federal spending and federal non-defense spending, budget deficits, and increases in federal non-defense employees. Others have looked at stock market returns.
The performance under Democratic presidents was superior to the performance under Republicans in each of those measures.
Perhaps all of those measures are flawed in some way or subject to external forces. Perhaps Republican economic theory and performance is not accurately captured by any of those sets of data. If so, there must be some measure of economic performance that puts Republican Presidents in a favorable light. Any ideas on what that measure might be?
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
A Sad Tale
Parenting is hard. Being the parent of a full spectrum autistic child is even harder. Having an autistic child involves a lot of extra work and imposes certain limitations. We have to make sure that the doors stay locked and that no keys are within reach. Maintaining a normal social and family life is a challenge. Bobby requires a lot of time, energy and attention. There is perpetual tension between those needs and the needs of our older son.
The most difficult part of raising a full spectrum autistic child, however, is dealing with the worry about the future. I am 49. Bobby is eight. If I am lucky enough to be able to care for Bobby until I am eighty, Bobby will be thirty-nine. What will happen to him then? Those are the issues that my wife and I discuss and worry about at 3:00 a.m.
All we can do as parents is to prepare as best we can for the day on which we will no longer be able to care for Bobby. The preparation includes lots of work to make Bobby a independent as possible. We hope that he can master sufficient life skills to live independently or perhaps in a group home. If he does not master those skills, what will happen to him when we are no longer able to provide care?
A story I saw in the Philadelphia Inquirer addressed that issue in a very sad way. It is the story of Stanley and Ronnie Mich.
In about 1938, Stanley and Ethyl Mich had a baby boy they named Ronnie. Ronnie is autistic. Ethyl died in 1950 when Ronnie was twelve. After her death, Stanley Mich dedicated his life to taking care of Ronnie and providing for his future.
Stanley Mich delivered newspapers and sold potato chips and candles along his route. Being concerned about Ronnie’s future, he lived very frugally. He never took a vacation and saved his money. Investments in phone stocks did well and added to his savings.
When Stanley Mich was well into his eighties, he thought that he had secured Ronnie’s future. The house where Ronnie had lived his entire life was paid for and Stanley had amassed an estate of $1.2 million dollars. That was enough to pay for full time care for Ronnie while Ronnie lived in the family home.
Autistics do not easily make transitions and Stanley promised Ronnie that no matter what happened to Stanley, Ronnie could live in the house.
Stanley spoke with Dennis O’Brien about Ronnie’s care. O’Brien was parishioner at the Catholic Church Stanley attended and was also lawyer. Stanley Mich named O’Brien as the executor of his estate and as the guardian of Ronnie.
Stanley died of cancer in 2000. Because of the money in Stanley’s estate, Ronnie remained in the family home and had a caregiver with him.
Two years later, a neighbor of the Mich family noticed that the bank had posted a property tax delinquency notice concerning the Mich house. The neighbor decided to investigate.
It turned out that O’Brien was a crook. He had been disbarred and he stood accused of stealing money from a number of clients and elderly people.
Of the more than a million dollars that Stanley worked, scrimped and saved to provide for Ronnie’s future, only $167 remained. O’Brien stands charged with theft, money laundering and embezzlement.
Ronnie was forced to leave the home he had lived in for more than 60 years. He was forced to adapt to changes in the environment and routine that had permitted him to live a happy life. Ronnie now lives at a home for disabled seniors. The taxpayers pick up the $50,000 a year charge.
And that is why my wife and I are often up at 3:00 a.m. We have lots of worrying to do.
Cross Posted at AutismWatch
Monday, July 07, 2003
Autism- Multiple Causes?
As some of you may know, I have begun posting at a group blog known as AutismWatch. AutismWatch is located here but I expect it to soon move to Movable Type. I will post a notice when the move is complete. It will come as no surprise that AutismWatch will be a single issue blog. My co-bloggers include Mary Beth of Wampum and Emily of Stoneleafunfounddoor. We hope to have other voices added as well. Please drop by to visit.
In the last few days, AutismWatch has linked to articles that suggest at least four separate causes of autism. Those potential causes include 1) mercury in infant vaccines; 2) the measles component of the MMR vaccine (which contains no mercury); 3) the pasteurization of milk; and 4) “the body's exposure and reaction to volatile organic compounds -- chemicals used in paints, chlorinated water and petroleum products, among other things.”
In addition to those four, research suggests a genetic component to autism.
It is hard to know what to make of the fact that there are so many possible causes of autism. There are at least three explanations for the multitude of possible causes.
First, it may be that there are so many causation theories because autism research is in its infancy. As a greater understanding of autism is gained, some causes will be disproved and others will arise. Please remember that at one time it was thought that AIDS had some relationship to Haitian descent. Thus, it may be that the multiplicity of possible causes stems from our lack of understanding of autism and that additional research and study will clarify the matter.
Secondly, it may be that there is one cause of autism and we simply fail to recognize the commonality of that factor in the various possible causes. Extending the analogy above, AIDS, in a sense, has multiple causes. The HIV virus can be spread by unprotected sex, dirty needles, blood transfusions, and in other ways. Until the relationship between AIDS and HIV was established, it was not readily apparent that there was a commonality in the “causes” of AIDS. Once the relationship between AIDS and the HIV virus was established, the commonality of contact with bodily fluids of HIV infected persons was apparent. It may be that once we understand the nature and mechanism of autism, a commonality of all of the above causes will become apparent.
Third, unlike HIV, there is not yet a blood test or similar test for autism. Autism is a set of behaviors. It is diagnosed by observing the subject and seeing if he or she (usually “he”) exhibits a sufficient number of specified behaviors to be deemed autistic.
The existence of common behavior does not demonstrate a common condition. It may be that there are a number of different things that cause similar behaviors.
For example, let us assume that we observe a small group of the population that exhibits the behavior of walking head first into walls. Like autistics, each of those persons exhibits common behavior. It might be natural to group those people together and say that they have a common condition but doing so would confuse rather than clarify the underlying issues.
Upon study, it might be revealed that the cause of the common behavior was different for each of several groups of people who walk into walls. Some might be blind, some drunk, some might have inner ear problems, some might be masochists who love to bang their heads against walls, and some, like Brad Delong, might simply be learned economists doomed to observe the policies of the Bush administration.
Just as the behavior of walking into walls could result from vastly different causes, so it might be with autistic behaviors. All of the above listed potential causes and many others, either singly or in combination with genetic predisposition or other factors, could be causes of autistic behaviors in some people.
If that is the case (and at this point it is just speculation), then instead of thinking about autism as a unitary condition with a single cause, we should be thinking about autism for what it really is, a collection of behaviors. There may be many subgroups of autism, each of which has its own etiology.
If autistic behaviors result from a variety of causes, the search for statistically valid proof of causation will be greatly complicated.
Let’s take a concrete example. Suppose that we hypothesize that some interaction with gluten causes autism. Suppose further that our hypothesis is true for a small portion of the persons who exhibit autistic behaviors.
We design an experiment to test the hypothesis. We recruit 100 kids who exhibit autistic behaviors, and test those kids to determine their level of functioning on whatever criteria we decide to use (say, eye contact and finger flapping). We then randomly divide the group into two fifty-person groups and provide all of the food to all 100 of the subjects.
The experimental group will be given completely gluten-free foods while the control group will consume gluten as a regular part of the diet.
After the experimental period, we retest all 100 subjects for eye contact and finger flapping. We then look to see if there was statistically significant improvement in the experimental group as opposed to the control group.
Let’s say that, through random chance, the experimental group had a disproportionately large number of kids whose autistic behaviors were caused by gluten. Our results will indicate that the improvement through a gluten-free diet is statistically significant.
A second research group sets out to duplicate our results. On that occasion, the number of gluten-sensitive kids, through random chance, is underrepresented in the experimental group. The results of the first experiment will not be duplicated.
In order to get meaningful results from such experiments, we need to identify the subgroups and select from among those when setting up our experiment.
To identify the subgroup of gluten-sensitive kids, we could test our hypothesis on a very large number of subjects and then run a second test among those showing improvement.
The trouble with that idea, of course, is that it ignores the very real interests of the children and their families. If my son Bobby participated in an experiment and made great developmental strides after being taken off gluten, I would be thrilled. If the researchers then asked that Bobby participate in the second test in which he had a 50% chance of being fed gluten with the risk that he would lose his developmental gains, the chances that I would agree to do so are exactly zero.
I have watched Bobby halt his development and gradually fall into an autistic shell. I have watched as he lost skills we fought hard to obtain. I have been there, done that, and gotten the tee-shirt. I will not willingly do so again.
That may not be best for the advancement of science and understanding of autism, but it is the truth.
A version of this post also appears at AutismWatch.
Sunday, July 06, 2003
Job Growth By Presidents
In Comments to this post at MaxSpeak, J.W. Mason posts a listing of job growth by president for the last 75 years:
Hoover (1929-33): -9.0%
That list was apparently sent to J.W. Mason him by email by the Economic Policy Institute (Max’s outfit).
There are thirteen presidents on the list, seven Republicans and six Democrats. The Republican administrations cover 35 years (counting the current administration as three years) and the Democratic administrations cover 40 years.
If we change the listing from chronological to a ranking by job growth we get:
1) Roosevelt (1933-45): +5.3%
Notice anything interesting about that listing?