Monday, February 28, 2005

Gary Matsumoto's Vaccine A: The Covert Government Experiment That's Killing Our Soldiers and Why GI's Are Only The First Victims is scary. But scary in a way that outrages a person, because of the events in the stories it tells. Matsumoto asrgues for a connection between an experimental anthrax vaccine used on U.S. military (plus those of a few of our 1991 Gulf War allies) and many cases among the military of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS). Those soldiers who chose to join the military were not given a choice about taking "Vaccine A" (as it was recorded in people medical records in the few cases where it was recorded at all), and they didn't have a choice about the medical consequences of this experimental vaccine. This group of autoimmune diseases affecting military personnel was labeled "Gulf War Syndrome" in the 1990s, even though it affected some who'd never left the U.S. But for years the U.S. government tried to blame it on Iraqi chemical or biological weapons -- denying that the U.S. itself, in an attempt to protect soldiers from biological warfare, had given a vaccine not licensed for use on people; denying that this vaccine they gave contained an ingredient called squalene that was intended to boost the vaccine's effectiveness; denying that squalene could affect the immune system negatively, making it turn on itself and causing these autoimmune diseases.

Evidence mounted throughout the 1990s, but some U.S. military were still being given the shots. Those who had heard about the risks from other sources sometimes chose to leave the military rather than recieve this mandatory vaccine with substances that might hurt or kill them. Government spokespeople have contradicted themselves and each other in trying to deny the unethical use of these experimental vaccine without the recipients' consent and the effect the vaccines have had on some. Their unwillingness to back down from the lie, be it for the sake of scientific theories unsupported by real-life facts, or refusal to suffer the consequences of using members of the American military as guinea pigs without asking them, is holding back the progress of medicine and undermining the U.S. government's reputation as much as any other issue. The book goes into great detail that non-medical people can understand, and additional information is available at

Friday, February 04, 2005

Another two from the accumulated stack:

David Livingstone Smith's Why We Lie: the Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind is fascinating in that "I don't know if I believe it but it's interesting" way. I've read a lot of evolutionary psychology books, but Smith's explanation of why it would be useful for survival to be able to deceive both other people and one's own conscious mind is something none of the others dealt with. The stuff about conscious deception is not too hard to swallow, but the idea that the unconscious mind is churning out behavior that deceives the conscious mind about its own reasons for the behavior can sometimes be difficult to accept. In some situations it makes sense; it's easier to apply to the people you see on daytime talk shows whose behavior defies the viewer's logic than it is to apply to oneself. Definitely food for thought, though.

And a different sort of science of humanity is chronicled in Serita Stevens' Forensic Nurse: The New Role of the Nurse in Law Enforcement. Lots of people still think of nurses as ladies who deal with bedpans and bandages only, even though these days that role is more given to the nurse's assistant and the nurse is a medical figure nearly up to the level of the doctor in hospitals, nursing homes, and any other setting where the doctors are spread too thin to always be there. Stevens shows nurses whose training lets them provide a massively helpful liaison service between the medical and crime/law communities, examining victims of violence not just to heal their hurts but to find evidence to convict their injurers. Tracing the stories of rape victims, child abuse victims, domestic violence victims, the mentally ill, Alzheimer's and other dementia patients, and people too badly injured to tell what has happened to them requires medical, psychological, and criminal investigation training, and not enough people have all those different areas covered. Hence crimes can go uninvestigated, or things which look bad can mistakenly be attributed to crimes commited by others when they were not (such as the homeless man who appeared to have been assaulted, but who turned out to have been attempting suicide) -- unless someone has the training to put all the pieces together. Forensic nurses also save the time of those thinly-spread doctors by testifying in court and serving as legal consultants for lawyers and judges unfamiliar with medical situations. (Perhaps more of these forensic nurses could help in the malpractice cases so common throughout America and thus end up decreasing health care costs by decreasing doctors' insurance rates, a cost passed on to patients.) The popularity of TV shows like "CSI" makes it seem like this book would be of interest to a large audience, since it depicts the same kind of mysteries. I hope so, because the importance of nurses, even those with standard training, can't be overstated.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The books I wanted to blog have really piled up over the holidays. Here's the top of the pile of six: Don't Cramp My Style: Stories About That Time Of The Month, edited by Lisa Rowe Faustino. My local library has this marked as a young adult (i.e., teenager) book, and the stories do largely center on teenage/college-age characters (though the one about the guy whose girlfriend sends him out to buy her tampons could apply to a large range of ages). Anyway, I'm a just-turned-32-year-old who has 20 years of menstruation behind her, but reading this book on my lunch break made me forget I had to go back to work. In a society where most men and many women think of any reference to menstruation as automatically "too much information," these stories of what starting one's period meant in various times and places, and different situations in the modern Western world, fascinated me because they felt familiar even as they dealt with completely different lives from mine. I wish this kind of thing had been available in middle school for my friends who couldn't even manage to say the word "period" aloud when asking if I'd had my first one already. I hope middle schoolers like my little (half-) sister have the guts to take this one up to the library counter. And now for something completely different (and yet kind of the same): Lisa Gee's Friends: Why Men And Women Are From The Same Planet. The belief is so common that, as the movie When Harry Met Sally put it, " What I'm saying is -- and this is not a come-on in any way, shape, or form -- is that men and women can't be friends, because the sex part always gets in the way." (Gee notes that during the writing of the book, that line was repeated to her more often than I care to remember.") My own personal experience is that men and women can be friends just fine without sex, actual or desired, interfering (even when there is unrequited romantic interest, it doesn't have to mess up friendship). So I'm pleased to see that the people she interviewed, brother-sister pairs and unrelated cross-sex friends both, no matter what their age, have very deep friendships that don't seem to involve sex at all. "A soul-mate doesn't have to be a sex-mate," she points out in the introduction, but that the lack of dramatic incidents in such friendships means that it doesn't stick in the mind the way the great love stories of our culture do. Many of the people in the friend pairs are married to others or otherwise involved with someone who is not their cross-sex friend, and this is another point that seems ignored by modern Western people -- that the person you love in a romantic and sexual way does not have to be (probably should not be) the only deep connection in your life, and that friends, whether they are of the gender you are attracted to or not, provide deep, emotionally intimate connections that are different but just as important. Gee's interviewees are mostly British but her conclusions make sense to an American like me, and her book is badly needed to counteract the limited and stereotypical views of human relations in best-selling books that draw men and women as so different that they might as well have evolved on different planets.