The Zika virus has highlighted how much some of us hate mosquitoes. These biting insects aren't just annoying. They also spread horrible diseases. Previously, we've mentioned some plans for destroying all mosquitoes, but that's probably not the most environmentally-friendly way to go about preventing the spread of mosquito-borne infections. Also, some people seem to attract more bites than others, but how well do mosquito repellents actually work, anyway?
Eating healthier is a common new year's resolution, and it might be good to start simple and stop consuming one unhealthy snack item. However, a completely healthy diet is a totally different task. There are countless fad diets that don't really work or aren't as healthy as they're supposed to be. On top of all that, we should also keep an eye out for the outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and food safety recommendations. Maybe people who drink all their calories aren't totally crazy....
The US has hundreds of thousands of swimming pools -- roughly 309,000 public pools and 10.4 million residential pools. It's a nice way to cool down on a hot summer day, but it's also kinda gross if you think about sharing germs with all the people swimming in the pool. At least there's no danger of getting attacked by sharks in a pool, but if you're paranoid about pool safety, check out a few of these links. (And perhaps try to stick with pools that use salt water chlorination.)
Cryptosporidium (aka Crypto) isn't killed by chlorine -- so don't drink pool water! This unpleasant germ can live for days in chlorinated water and cause diarrhea when ingested. Avoid kiddie pools, and also, just don't go swimming if you're already ill with diarrhea. Maybe someday public swimming pools will irradiate or add ozone to treat the water, but the CDC found that 1 in 8 swimming pools had public health violations in 2008 -- so maybe just stay out of the water. [url]
Maybe you like Caesar salads or the supposed health benefits of drinking raw eggs (a la Rocky Balboa), and you already know about the risks of Salmonella. Well, there's some good news for you: you might be able to get some pasteurized eggs that are virtually indistinguishable from conventional raw eggs. While previous pasteurization methods made eggs a bit thicker in texture, food scientists have been working on fixing that. Here are just a few links on eating raw eggs, if that's your thing.
Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.
While it may seem like a shot across the bow of videogames to score some cheap political points, what Obama actually has in mind is a bit more subtle. (Make no mistake, though: this subject wouldn't have been broached if not for the Newtown shooting.)
Conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence: The President is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and scientific agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. It is based on legal analysis that concludes such research is not prohibited by any appropriations language. The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact. And the Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.
Two things worth noting in this paragraph:
The "Presidential Memorandum" lifts a moratorium on this sort of research by the CDC, something that has been in place for over 15 years. Kyle Orland at Ars Technica explains:
[T]he federal Centers for Disease Control have been prohibited from funding studies that "advocate or promote gun control" since 1996, when Congress cut the $2.6 million the organization had been using to fund gun injury research through its Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Further moves since then have prevented the CDC from even receiving federal crime data for gun research, and prohibited the National Institute of Health from doing gun violence research as well.
And why was this research prohibited? Depending on who you ask, it's either because the NRA didn't like guns being tied to injuries and death (Orland calls it a "chilling effect" brought on by Arthur Kellerman's study) or the study itself was severely flawed and skewed to fit the pre-existing bias of the director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which operated under the CDC's direction.
Secondly, the wording directs the CDC to focus on areas with the "greatest potential public health impact." The administration may namecheck current hot buttons like videogames and violent media, but as it's worded, the CDC has no instruction to start its work by assessing these areas. As Orland states, this one sentence is likely nothing more than a brief concession to the current political climate:
Making a brief mention of video game studies as a part of a $10 million funding request is a good way to pay lip service to these political concerns on both the left and the right without really making it a priority. If studying video game and media violence were actually a major focus of the president's gun control agenda, it would have a much more prominent place in both his remarks and his official funding requests. Instead, the real money the president is asking from Congress will go to more important things: $20 million for the National Violent Death Reporting System, $14 million for police and security training, $150 million for in-school mental health counselors, $30 million to develop school emergency management plans, and so on.
Overall, putting the CDC in charge is probably (in the parlance of government works) the "least worst" way to handle this. The CDC will have access to more mental health-related data than other existing entities, a factor that definitely needs to be considered. (But this factor also presents its own problems: it's entirely too easy to write off mass murderers as mentally defective. The idea of taking someone's life, much less multiple lives, is so repulsive to "normal" human beings that the kneejerk reaction is to blame it on mental illness. It's safe to say that normal people would never commit mass murder, but it's way too simplistic to assume that every perpetrator is mentally defective.) It should also have access to demographic and other environmental factors, which should give it a more rounded picture than the limited sample sizes and variables of smaller studies and surveys.
Another factor that makes the CDC a preferable choice is the fact that it's an existing agency. Turning this task over to a special committee would result in a room filled to capacity with appointees and their predispositions. (The argument can also be made that the CDC carries its own predispositions, but expecting a government directive, especially an executive order, to conjure up a completely impartial study is to show a level of faith the government simply doesn't deserve.)
Now, the downside.
Any conclusions the CDC comes to will be immediately suspect. No matter what it finds, the conclusions will be disputed. The presence or absence of a link between violent media and gun violence will only exacerbate the divide between both sides of the debate. To date, no link has been conclusively proven. This study's outcome will likely be more of the same. It's nearly impossible isolate people and "violent media" from the other factors that affect the equation. The CDC should be able to incorporate its existing knowledge in regards to risk factors, but the answers it comes up with will fail to satisfy everyone. Ultimately, it will change nothing, but it will have the power to inform government policy going forward and, depending on the political climate, it's likely that gossamer-thin correlation will be enough to justify legislation.
Then there's the tangled issue of gun control policy, something the CDC has waded into in the past. Again, any conclusions drawn will be contrasted against its history with the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and its biased approach to the study of gun violence. (Particularly troublesome is a 1987 CDC report, in which the director of the NCIPC thought enough evidence existed to "confiscate all firearms from the general population" in order to prevent 8,600 homicides a year.) The administration has done a disservice to both groups (video game fans, gun owners) by making this study inseparable from a larger gun control proposal.
The best case scenario, like so much in government, is that nothing happens. The studies are proposed, the climate shifts and, like so much before it, it's discarded in favor of What's Ailing the Nation Now. While it would be interesting to see the CDC perform an in-depth study (especially if the data collected is made available to the public), the chance of a negative outcome (in terms of misguided legislation, etc.) is way too high.
On the whole, though, it is refreshing to see videogames treated as part of the media, rather than a wholly distinct scapegoat capable of destroying society on its own. Unfortunately, even with its rather brief appearance in the administration's set of proposals, it appears the government still wants to control media (as opposed to "the media") and this single paragraph could help rationalize unconstitutional measures.
No one likes feeling drowsy when they want to be awake and alert. For centuries, folks have been self-medicating by drinking various beverages with caffeine (and Coca-cola originally had a more potent drug in it). We've come a long way from just boiling tea leaves in water, and here are just a few more ways caffeine is spreading into our lives.
It's probably not all that exciting to blog for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) blog. It's probably not always easy to get attention from your everyday reader. So, kudos to the CDC for having a bit of a sense of humor in figuring out a good way to get its message on emergency preparedness out to folks who might never otherwise be compelled to look at the blog. It had Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan explain to people how to prepare for (and hopefully survive) the Zombie Apocalypse:
There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. Thatís right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens youíll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe youíll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.
And, from there it goes into general disaster preparedness, at times relating it back to the impending zombie invasion. We do plenty of complaining about bad government actions around here, but I say kudos for not releasing just a totally bland (it does get a bit dry in the middle) disaster preparedness blog post, but instead, for coming up with a good way to get the info out there that might actually spread (in a good way...).
from the that's-what-we-call-regulatory-capture dept
It's well known that the FCC has long had incredibly bogus data when it comes to broadband and mobile penetration in the US. In many cases, this is due to efforts from legacy providers who don't want accurate penetration info to get out there, because that might lead the government to realize how little actual competition there is in the market. Kevin Werbach points us to the fact that it appears that when people are interested in mobile phone penetration in the US, it's not the FCC who has the data, but the Center for Disease Control (CDC), who went out and collected their own damn data because it needed to know that data to make sure its phone surveys remained accurate. It's quite telling of the state of the FCC when it's the CDC that has better data about the industry the FCC regulates.