Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Seroconversion

Regarding the nurse that is refusing to submit to quarantine for Ebola, much ado is being made of the fact that she has tested negative for Ebola, and many are saying that since she has tested negative, this means that she isn't infected, and that placing her in quarantine is in opposition to science and to her rights.

First, the test. A test for Ebola (and most other infections) is based not on testing for the virus itself, but looking for the body's response to the virus. That is, when you are infected, your immune system eventually recognizes the infection and begins to produce chemicals to fight the infection. These chemicals are called antibodies. Each antibody is specific to the virus or other pathogen that it is being made in response to. When the levels of those antibodies rise to detectable levels, a person will show as "positive" for that infection. This is called "seroconversion" and is an indicator that you have been exposed to a given pathogen at some time in the past.

A negative test does not mean that you are not infected. It doesn't mean that you have never been exposed. All it means is that your body has not yet begin to produce antibodies. Some people take longer to develop detectable antibodies than others, and still others never develop them. (Called silent seroconversion) For example, I have been exposed multiple times to chicken pox (vaccination and direct exposure) and still have no detectable antibodies, but I have never caught the illness.

As to her rights, any person who is engaged in an activity that is dangerous to the health of others can result in restrictions. For example, I could say that it should be permissible for me to have a campfire in the living room of my first floor condo. After all, if the fire hasn't spread to an adjoining apartment, it isn't hurting anyone, right? How about being able to fire my pistol down a crowded street? After all, if no bullet strikes anyone, no one was harmed. Drunk driving?

In short, that argument doesn't fly with me. 21 days is not that big of a deal, and this nurse is acting like it is the end of the world. 

(to my biology friends: I know that some of the concepts in here are oversimplified, but that doesn't change the gist of the argument.)

Mayberry to Martial law

Police agencies have acquired over a billion dollars of military equipment this year alone.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Non compete clauses

When do the terms of your employment move from being a voluntary agreement between two parties to being unfair? In this economy, employers have the upper hand, and people are so happy to be offered employment, any employment, they will take the job, no matter the conditions.

I post this because of the newest trend in employment: the non compete clause. Now I'm not saying that the non-compete clause is anything new. Those clauses have long been used to keep key employees from taking valuable company secrets with them to their new employers. A prime example of this, is the lawyer who leaves a firm and takes valuable clients with him to his new firm. However, the non-compete clause is now being used as a club against workers by telling them that not only will they have their hours cut or be fired if they don't do as they are told, but they will also not be allowed to get a job anywhere else, either.

Places like the Jimmy John's chain of sandwich shops are requiring their minimum wage sandwich makers to sign non-compete clauses to prevent them from leaving for better employment. The non-compete clause is buried in the fine print on the job application. You can blame a person for not having job skills all you want, but this prevents those workers from ever improving their lives. Suppose that I am a worker at a sandwich shop, and I am making minimum wage. I am working during the day, and attending college at night. I get a degree in restaurant management, and I am offered a job managing a TGIFridays. Under the terms of the non-compete clause, I can't take it. I am literally stuck in my minimum wage job.

I have been forced to sign a non-compete twice:
Two decades ago, I worked for a company that provided technical services at the Orlando airport. A competitor opened up nearby, and began taking a substantial part of the company's business away. The competitor was offering $3 an hour more, in addition to a $1,000 signing bonus, to anyone who left my company to work for them. Our ten employee location lost two employees within a week of each other, and one of them was the location manager.
The remaining employees, myself included, were told that we had to sign a non-compete clause that prohibited us from working at any airport location for two years after leaving the employ of the company. The penalty for not signing the agreement was that we would be immediately terminated.

The second time was just three years ago. I was working as an instructor at a private college. To save money, the school told us that we were not employees. We were contractors. We would serve at the pleasure of the company, and had to pay our own taxes (so they would not have to cover the matching half of Social Security), we were not covered by Worker's Comp because we were not employees, we received no benefits, and we were not promised any specific number of hours. However, we still had to wear the company's uniform (Polo shirts with the school logo), punch a time clock, teach according to the school's lesson plans. The non-compete clause said that I could not teach for any other school within 50 miles for two years after leaving employment with them.

It wound up biting me in the end. The school's director and I had a slight disagreement in 2013, and he cut my hours to four hour lecture every month. I tried to work for other schools, but as soon as they found out where I had worked, I was told that they did not want to get involved with the legal battle that would result if they hired me, and that was that. Even though I was never technically an employee of the school, the mere threat of a lawsuit hurt my chances at working anywhere near Orlando.

That is why I am not IN Orlando any longer.

In short, I think that any time an employer requires that you sign a non-compete clause, that employer should be responsible for continuing to pay you your salary until you are released from the restrictions of the clause. That will ensure that these clauses are only used when they are vital to the employer's business interests, and not as a tool to punish employees.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Liar? Or simply stupid? You decide.

In this morning's post, I forgot the best quote, from a reader calling himself "Jarhead" in Maryland:

the whole thing about how could the cop shoot him six times? Could be excess, or as anyone whose fired weapons will tell you - - the cop did not have an old-style police pistol that shoots one round, one trigger squeeze. He had a semi-automatic pistol, and in an adrenaline rushed fight-or-flight encounter, the cop could have held the trigger and more rounds came out as a matter of course. It's not binary, he brutally shot him repeatedly OR he squeezed and discharges continued automatically, but the number of rounds fired is not insane.
This comes from a person calling himself "Jarhead" and claiming familiarity with weapons, yet doesn't know the difference between semi-auto and full auto.

Ferguson shooting and idiots

There is a story in the NY Times this weekend about the Ferguson shooting. In the article, a source is quoted as saying that Federal charges against the officer are not warranted because the forensics seem to support the officer's account of the shooting. The innocence or guilt of the officer is not, however, the topic of this post. The stupidity of the people commenting on it is.

Here are some real gems from the comments section, comments which show just how ignorant and stupid people can be:

Louis says:
A few nights ago I had a run-in with a police officer in a St Louis suburb (not Ferguson) and was stunned by his aggressive and abusive behaviour. As I spoke calmly to a first officer (who was also calm) Officer #2 began ranting and raving, threatening to arrest me. The very first words out of his mouth were shouted at full volume.

My first thoughts were that if he was behaving like this toward a middle-aged white guy, what would he have done had I been a 20 yr old black man?
So to prove that a cop is prejudiced, we submit a statement that says an encounter with a cop in a different city who acts like a jerk makes the Ferguson a racist? Even though, according to your statement, race was not a factor in your own encounter?

Brian Kirkland from North Brunswick, NJ says:
Brown was unarmed and running away. It makes no sense that he would attack the cop, if all this was over walking down the street.

Why did the cop want to stop Brown? Because he could? This is so much like the shooting of Trayvon Martin. If the guy with the gun, who has no legitimate reason to confront anyone, doesn't decide to confront, everyone lives.

Being a police officer shouldn't be a license to stop African-Americans in the street, anymore than being on the neighborhood watch. There has to be a probable cause, which isn't revealed in this article.

I went to that street. It's narrow and doesn't lend itself to high speeds. What was this confrontation over, since Wilson didn't know Brown was a suspect in the store incident? That's what needs to be explained.
Never mind that the article says that Brown was not shot in the back ( as evidenced by the autopsy), meaning that he was not running away. Never mind that Brown's blood is in the patrol car and on the officer's gun, indicating that the officer and Brown were fighting over the gun inside the patrol car. Never mind that Zimmerman did not confront Martin, but was attacked by Martin. No, you want to claim that armed men must wait until they are killed before trying to defend themselves.

 rm writes:
The officer was armed and Michael Brown was not, and the officer fired many times at Brown, hitting him six times, killing him.

Those bare facts alone, I believe, should make it hard to claim, with aggressive confidence like many posters here, that the shooting was justified.

I don't know the whole picture, or how the trial will turn out, but we know enough to see that the shooter's defenders are in no position to be quite so bumptious.
 So, to this self defense expert, I ask: If you are justified in shooting someone, how many times are you allowed to shoot them before it is no longer a justified shooting? If I shoot a person in self defense once, that is OK, but if I shoot him six times, that makes the previous five shots retroactively unjustified?

knickerbockeravc from Tennessee says:
Reports on the incident are all over the map. One glaring fact is Wilson unloaded his service weapon into Brown. The kill shots being in the eye and top of the head. My opinion is Wilson was scared of a young black male, so he executed him. He should be charged and the specific charges will be up to a court of law.
Actually, that is pretty factual. See, you have to be "scared" (in fear for your life) to use deadly force. Brown was in fact a young, black male. However, I do not see where that adds up to "execution" or warrants charges.

alista writes:
A man with a gun in a car shoots 6 times, I repeat 6 times, another man in the street and kills him. The reason: the other man was walking in the middle of the street. The event happened in full day and the facts are undeniable. And we are discussing here whether the murderer should be prosecuted? This is sick.
So just ignore all of the events and facts that don't support your opinion? The fact that the man who was in the street tried to take the weapon from the cop and kill him with it? Ignore that the man walking in the street was a violent felon? Those undeniable facts?

One last one, from Riley Temple in Washington, DC:
It is brushed aside, Michael, because assault in a store, petty theft, a violent nature, even punching a police officer in the face or body, as deplorable as all of that surely is, is no justification for shooting to kill when the perpetrator of the violent acts is unarmed and in retreat. If he must be stopped for arrest, then the officer could have shot his weapon to stun or to stop him -- at his feet or legs. What Wilson did in this case was to shoot to kill. Six bullets in all were dislodged, five after the victim had turned with his arms up in surrender, one of the bullets fatally aimed and lodged in his head. The killed man could have been as violent and as awful a person the world has ever known. Yet, he did nothing to deserve to die on August 9, 2014. He tussled with a cop and he stole some cigars. Bad boy! Since when does our government put "bad boys" even "delinquent boys" to death in the street? Sadly, we know the answer all too well.
Even ignoring the allegation that Brown was trying to tak ethe officer's gun from him, and that robbing a tore with violence is a felony. According to this idiot, cops should shoot people in the legs to stop them from running away. As if a gun were some sort of lasso or remote controlled punch, instead of being what they are: lethal force.

Which story is more believable?
A cop pulled up next to a 6'4" 300 pound black man, grabbed him by the throat with one hand and hoisted him through the driver's side window. Then, the black man bravely fought him off and ran, the cop ordered him to stop, which he did, and then the cop shot him as he was surrendering, then staged the entire crime scene in front of witnesses, and none of those witnesses saw him.   OR-

The criminal who just robbed a store attacked a cop who confronted him and fought over the cop's weapon. The gun went off twice during the struggle, and hit the criminal at least once, leaving the criminal's blood in the cruiser and on the weapon. The criminal ran, and the officer pursued. The criminal then doubled back to attack the officer, and was shot several times as he advanced on him.

The scary thing to me is that these idiots can all vote, and each of their votes counts the same as anyone's. The comments here are the biggest argument against Democracy as I have ever seen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ebola thoughts

 HIV is a pretty well known and understood virus. We know that it is a blood bourne virus, and the only way to get it is to share body fluids with an infected person. That means that if you do not expose your blood to the bodily fluids of a person infected with the virus, you won't get HIV or AIDS. With that being said, about 50,000 people per year are diagnosed with HIV. About 60% of the people who are infected with HIV go on to develop AIDS. Of the ones who develop AIDS, about 25% of them die.So, to summarize, HIV has a mortality rate of about 15%.

Health care workers have been dealing with blood borne pathogens for decades, and have little trouble preventing its spread in health care settings.Of course HIV is pretty difficult to catch. Epidemiologists have calculated a reproduction number, or R0 (pronounced R-nought) to estimate the number of individuals who contract a disease from an infected and contagious individual. In the case of HIV, that Ris 4, meaning that each person with HIV transmits that disease to 4 others, on average.

Epidemiologists are estimating that the R0 for Ebola is 2, meaning that, on average, each person with Ebola will pass the disease on to 2 other people. Of course, they are also saying this about Ebola:
 Ebola, which is transmitted only by contact with infected bodily fluids, is not contagious until the patient begins to show symptoms. Once contagious, concern is warranted, because Ebola fatality rates approach 50 percent, especially without proper treatment.
 Of course, there are some obvious falsehoods here. It turns out that the mortality rate for Ebola is closer to 70% than it is to 50%. It also turns out that the disease may not be purely blood bourne, as previously thought. Think about this: You have a pair of nurses who caught the disease, presumably from being exposed to infectious materials that were expelled from the Index patient. These nurses, if they are like the workers that I know, are intimately familiar with blood bourne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis, being that they likely see multiple patients with one of those diseases several times a day.

Instead, we find out that the hospital has the staff that is treating Ebola patients wearing positive pressure respirators. When was the last time you heard of a medical team wearing respirators for HIV or Hepatitis patients? Compounding this, we have an NBC reporter who reportedly had no known contact with any Ebola patients, and reportedly caught the virus from riding in a taxi that an infected person had previously ridden in. He had been in Liberia for less than 24 hours when he began showing symptoms. (He arrived in Liberia on Tuesday, and was diagnosed on Wednesday) That particular fact opens all sorts of scary possibilities.

Perhaps the disease has changed, and a new strain is more infectious than previous ones. That would give us an R0 that is higher than 2. How much higer would need to be determined. Let's face it: Duncan has already infected his two patients.

Let's talk about treatment.

Sure, the mortality rate here in the US is pretty good: Of the 6 patients treated here in the US, one has died, three have recovered, and two are in the early stages of treatment. Of course that is when you have 6 patients in a nation of 300 million. When it takes 70 people to treat one patient at a cost of several million dollars, you have to ask yourself how many times we can make such an effort before we run out of resources. Two of the patients were saved because they received the blood of a survivor. How much blood can he give? What about people who do not match his blood type? What happens when supplies of disposable suits and respirators run out?

Let's do some math:

Assume that the Ris still 2. There are currently an estimated 15,000 people with the disease worldwide. With an R0 of two, and considering that people become contagious and die in less than a month, we are going to see the number of cases double every month. That means that a year from now, there will no longer be 15,000 people with the disease, there will be over 245 million people with active Ebola infections. Assuming that the 70% mortality rate holds steady, by this month next year, the worldwide death toll from the disease would be 344 million dead.

Raise the R0 to 4, and those numbers become MUCH worse. With an R0 of 4, everyone in the world would have the disease by July, and more than half of the world would be dead of Ebola. That is what makes this disease so different, because HIV has an R0 of 4, but that number is stretched out over the several years that it takes an infected person to succumb. In the case of Ebola, the disease runs its entire course in less than a month, so an Ebola patient will infect his two patients within a week or two, whereas the HIV patient takes years to infect 4.

Of course, deaths on that scale probably won't happen. The reason for that is that the R0 would fall rapidly at some point. Why? Because humans can be a fear driven, panicked herd, just like any animal that perceives its survival is at stake. Once a disease like this takes off, society will begin to break down as antisocial behaviors take over.

See a hundred or two hundred cases of Ebola happen in the US. Schools will close, either by government decree, or by unspoken agreement. People will stop going to work, will stop gathering in large groups. Medical personnel will stop going to work. People will stop interacting. At some point, rioting will ensue. This will continue until the disease burns out.

From a purely scientific stand point, this is interesting to watch. At the same time, I think that we are either deliberately being lied to, or the experts are being proven wrong. Either way, these are the same hospitals that cannot control or prevent the 1.7 million hospital acquired infections in the US each year, which kill 100,000 people each year. Because of that fact, I do not believe them when they say that they have this under control.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My issue

I have a student who was failing my class. She was failing two other classes. All of the teachers who had been there longer warned me to just give this student good grades. "It isn't worth it," they said. Statements like that offended me, and I stuck to my ethics, and gave her the grade she had earned.

Her parents immediately complained when progress reports came out, and they found out that their daughter was failing my class. They requested a meeting where they claimed that I was giving their daughter zeros on assignments that she had turned in. I pointed out that I have the students put all assignments in a drop box on the class website, and showed that the student had not been logging in to the website at all. They backed down.

I offered to help the student, and the other students who were failing, by setting up after school tutoring sessions where attendance was requried for anyone with less than a C. The vast majority of these students thrived on this, and raised their grades to a C or higher. This student refused to do work, and became a royal pain. She complained and fought doing anything the entire time. She and her parents insisted that they didn't accomplish anything during tutoring, and that I am a bad teacher who is giving the student failing grades because I do not like her.

The student began taking photos of my class and tutoring sessions, and tried nitpicking about everything. In one picture, she showed a student with a soda in tutoring, which is not allowed. She insisted that I was not enforcing the rules. I was called into the vice-principal's office and told that it looked bad that I was not enforcing the rules.

So, the very next day, the student who complained was sitting there in class eating during class. I wrote her a detention, as per the rules. Now she is complaining that I wrote her a detention. I pointed out to the VP that this girl was complaining that the rules were not being enforced. and now that they are, she is upset because she has to follow them as well as everyone else.

The parents and the student are bragging that they are going to get me fired. It looks like it is going to go that way, if I don't just pass her. I am beginning to see why the other teachers just give this girl a passing grade. They are right, it isn't worth the hassle. It isn't worth my job.

This is why our education system is a mess.

FBI throws a fit

Why is the FBI angry? Because encryption on Apple's iPhone is strong enough that they can no longer spy on your phone without you knowing about it. Android will soon follow suit. The FBI doesn't like that.

Too bad. Get a warrant.


Suicide contract

A 5 year old girl in Alabama draws a picture of a gun, and also points a crayon at a classmate and says "pew! Pew!"

The school makes her sign a statement that she will not commit suicide or kill her classmates.

What 5 year old knows what suicide is?
Would a contract be enforceable against a 5 year old?
Would a person planning on committing suicide or mass murder care that they had signed a contract not to?

Pure stupidity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Stupid Party will never learn

2012: It was the year where incumbent President Obama had a rather poor rating from voters: He went into the first week of September with a -2 approval rating. Nearly anyone could have beaten Obama. The Republicans sent in the best candidate that they could come up with. They sent: Mitt Romney, a man that could only be called a conservative if he were in a liberal state like Massachusetts.

Trying to play to the middle, the republicans lost their base, and Obama walked back into the Whitehouse for four more years. So, realizing their mistake, the Republicans decide that they will send in the best man they have for a 2016 run at the Oval office. Who are they looking at? Why, Mitt Romney, of course!

The past two years have seen the government argue and filibuster themselves to a standstill, just as I had hoped they would. You Republicans need to stop trying to pander to the left, and just stick to your base. I promise you, just like last election, I WILL NOT VOTE FOR MITT ROMNEY. I will cast a vote for no one in the presidential race before I vote in a tax and spend liberal, just because he has an (R) behind his name.

Go ahead, repeat the mistakes of 2012, and watch Hillary become the next president.