Tuesday, February 24, 2009


It’s hard to believe, but this is our third Mardi Gras away from New Orleans. Oh, we still know when it’s coming. I get a clue when I start getting a lot of new visitors to the blog based on Google searches for “If Ever I Cease to Love.” Then, friends and family start sending us things so we don’t feel left out. (See picture below.)

Like other parts of South Louisiana culture, we have managed to bring Mardi Gras with us to the Great Midwest.

There was a local media personality in New Orleans who used to deliver nightly editorials on television. On Mardi Gras, he always came on and said simply that the station reserve the right to be serious tomorrow, but not today. Don’t we all need that one day a year?

Wherever you are, let a little Mardi Gras into your lives today.

For past posts discussing the sweet and the bittersweet of Mardi Gras in our lives (some of which were not written on Mardi Gras itself), go here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Last week, after the decision came down from the Court of Claims, we started seeing some amazing statements coming from prominent people within the mainstream medical establishment. Doctors who ordinarily curse the legal system and swear that it’s absolutely the wrong place to decide scientific and medical questions were immediately transformed into true believers. Suddenly, a disputed scientific and medical question was deemed to be settled because a special master (in essence, an assistant judge) decreed it so.

Dr. David Perlin, Director of the Public Health Research Institute at New Jersey Medical School, was one such doctor. He wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times, which is discussed paragraph-by-paragraph below.
I empathize with the thousands of parents who struggle to raise children with autism and desperately seek answers to its cause. But I am outraged as a scientist and infectious diseases specialist that a vocal group of media personalities and politicians, latching onto a badly flawed vaccine-link hypothesis, could have so wrongly influenced society.

Speaking only as one parent, I would like to thank Dr. Perlin for his empathy, but I’d like to suggest that what we’d really like is for him to understand that this our hypothesis is not the product of media personalities and politicians. First of all, if he would take the time to actually look at the issue fairly (if we are to give Dr. Perlin the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is expressing an honestly-held-albeit-sloppily-arrived-at opinion), he might understand that there is not a single hypothesis at issue here, but several hypotheses that are all subsets of a large and very broad hypothesis.

It is gross oversimplification to speak (or write) as though this was simply a question of blaming thimerosal, in and of itself, the MMR, in and of itself, or even a simple combination of thimerosal-containing vaccines and the MMR. That oversimplification has been the weapon of distraction that many of the more disingenuous defenders of the status quo have used. By resorting to that oversimplified thinking, Dr. Perlin is “latching onto a badly flawed” argument.

Next, Dr. Perlin writes:
By casting doubt on vaccine safety and dismissing extensive scientific evidence to the contrary from a wide spectrum of experts, they instilled fear in parents and detrimentally disrupted vaccine practices worldwide. The consequences of this action may have harmed many more children and adults than they had hoped to help.

Puhleeze! I’ve seen no evidence that vaccination rates are appreciably lower than they ever were.

And just who are this “wide spectrum of experts?” Is he talking about the assembled group at the Simpsonwood conference, who managed to take a study showing a positive connection and convert it to a neutral study (and for some reason, people like Dr. Perlin seem to interpret the word “neutral” as meaning absolute proof of there being no connection). Or maybe he’s talking about our friends in Denmark who realized that the best way to study the impact of thimerosal would be to change the criteria for inclusion in the two populations they supposedly were trying to compare. Dr. Perlin’s right; there are soooo many scientific studies against the hypotheses we cling to. If only any of them had an ounce of scientific integrity, we might actually be convinced.

Next, we get another glimpse of the empathetic Dr. Perlin:
Equally important, it diverted scarce resources away from getting at the true underlying causes of this devastating disorder, leaving the parents of autistic children without the answers they deserve.

Okay, is it just me, or is anyone else thinking about OJ looking for the “real killer” on golf courses all over America? Hey, maybe that’s where they’ll find it ⎯ you know, the gene (the one that’s solely responsible for all cases of autism without the slightest environmental influence).

Finally, Dr. Perlin leaves with this little nugget:
We need to learn that engaging in amateurish science makes for bad public policy.

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I choose to be highly skeptical of all of the “science” used to validate the safety of the vaccine schedule that’s currently being shoved down the throats of the American public.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SNOOKS EAGLIN (1936 ⎯ 2009)

Snooks Eaglin at the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (with George Porter, Jr. on bass)

There’s some sad news from New Orleans. Snooks Eaglin, the blind bluesman who was one of this country’s greatest musical treasures, passed away today. He had a unique guitar style that influenced countless players, and a stage presence that won him fans around the world. He was known as “the human jukebox” due to his ability to play anything at any time, but always in his own style. One of his best known recordings was “Funky Malaguena,” which was just what the title indicates: the flamenco standard played with a decidedly New Orleans beat.

I was lucky enough to see him for the first time when I was still an impressionable teenager and learning that there was a lot of great music that wasn’t on mainstream radio. I saw him many times through the years, the last time being at the 2006 JazzFest. He never failed to leave me in awe.

An obit from WWOZ (the world’s greatest radio station) can be found here.

Below, enjoy Snooks.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


After the Court of Claims issued its ruling denying recovery in the thee vaccine-induced autism cases, SafeMinds issued a statement, which included the following quote:
“The government has its thumb on the scales of justice,” said Jim Moody, director of SafeMinds and an advisor to the Petitioners Steering Committee of the U.S Federal Court of Claims. “The Vaccine Injury Compensation Act passed by Congress in 1986 gave immunity to vaccine manufacturers and removed the incentive to create safer products. Meanwhile, the law only gives the illusion that parents will have their day in court. The process is dysfunctional and many families will not see justice done.”

As was stated in the reaction issued by the National Autism Association: “Advocates say they are disappointed in today’s rulings, but not surprised.” Indeed, the decision did not come as a shock to anyone who as spent time around the legal system.

For the last several years that I actively practiced law, I often said that the last place one should go to find justice is the courthouse. As a corollary to that idea, I would add that the further removed from a jury decision one gets, the more remote the chance of achieving justice becomes. And it doesn’t get much further removed than special masters.

The cases pending in the so-called vaccine court never really stood a chance. No matter what anyone says about a reduced burden of proof, the fact remains that there was still a burden imposed on the plaintiffs, and that burden made ruling against the plaintiffs the far easier path for the finders of fact (in this case, the special masters). Add in the fact that a plaintiffs’ ruling would have meant taking a stand against a powerful, mainstream establishment of vested interests, and the ruling of February 13th was a fait accompli.

Even though the “science” supporting the defense in these cases was bullshit ⎯ and there’s really no other word for it ⎯ that bullshit had widespread support in the mainstream, and the emerging science showing a connection between vaccines and the onset of ASD did not. The court system is not prone to accepting emerging science.

I need to make it clear that I am not questioning the personal integrity of the special masters. But judges (even the in-for-life federal judges who will determine the appeals of these cases) tend to take the easy road. There’s nothing easy about questioning what too many in the medical community accept as an unquestionable article of faith.

Unfortunately, the science demonstrating a link between the currently insane vaccine schedule and the triggering of disorders on the autism spectrum is “emerging.” Science always takes time; in this case, it is taking even more time than it should. It’s hard to march uphill carrying the weight of the conventional “wisdom” that is being challenged. So it’s going to be a while longer before the rest of the world is ready t even consider the possibility that we might just be right.

Dan Olmsted, at Age of Autism, likened the recent decision to an early move in a long chess game. Although I don’t think this is a game we’re playing (and I also don’t think that Dan is implying it is), the analogy fits. We still have a long way to go.

For the immediate concern of the three families that got screwed by the decision, and for the thousands of families that were relying on a favorable outcome to give them hope in their own claims, there is the hope of the appeals process. I regret to say that I’m not expecting any different outcome.

But winning monetary awards was never what this struggle has been about. The Court was just one venue of a much broader struggle. That struggle is to get the world to understand what happened to our children, and to get our society to recognize its obligation to help. That’s the justice we need.

There have been many steps on this journey. In reflecting on what the rulings mean, I thought back to April, 2006, and the Mercury Generation Rally in Washington. Like thousands of parents who wanted to be there, I was stuck at home working. The whole day of the rally, however, I kept hearing an old refrain going through my head:
We shall not, we shall not be moved.
We shall not, we shall not be moved.
We’re fighting for our children,
We shall not be moved.

I went home, and I wrote a post, which included the following:
. . . Everything I’ve seen in the last couple of years tells me we’re on the right track. I recall visiting relatives living in tobacco country as a boy. I can still hear my father’s cousin, who operated a wholesale business for tobacco products, railing about those litigation-seeking agitators who were trying to draw a connection between cigarettes and cancer. He could cite lots of impressive studies that “disproved” the connection, but we came to find out those studies were dictated more by interests than science. In the autism controversies, both sides claim that it’s the other guys using “tobacco science.” It says a lot to me that only one side says the debate is over. That side needs to be reminded that there are a lot of us out here, and we’re not going away any time soon.

Yes, there are a lot of us out here, we're everywhere, and we’re not going away any time soon. We’ll be here until the truth is known. Once the truth is known to a degree that nobody can argue against it, we’ll have justice for ourselves, for our children, and for children yet to be born. Let’s not get lose faith just because that justice could not be found in the last place we should be looking.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I was planning for my sabbatical to last longer, but I think it's almost time for me to get back into the game.

Or as my favorite philosopher, Popeye T. Sailor put it: That's all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!