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Drive-Thru What?

January 13, 2010

First off, let me apologize for the long hiatus. I have no excuse, other than Christmas cookie-induced lethargy.

I have occasionally railed against fast food restaurants on this blog for developing ever more fattening concoctions in the midst of the obesity epidemic. Remember Domino’s bread bowl pasta? Well, Taco Bell has developed a different, albeit similarly ludicrous approach to the obesity problem.

Last night I happened to catch a commercial featuring Taco Bell’s new Drive-Thru Diet. The spot features Christine, a lithe, attractive, and overly exuberant woman who used to be chubby. “I lost 54 pounds by reducing my daily calories and replacing my usual fast food with Taco Bell’s Drive-Thru Diet,” she says, throwing her hands in the air.  “I didn’t want to cut out my fast food, so I started choosing Fresco items from the Drive-Thru Diet menu.”

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Freaky Friday

November 13, 2009

On a recent visit to DC, I made a brief foray into Kramerbooks, where I had the good fortune to stumble across Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. This book, by Atul Gawande, provides an eye-opening look at what goes on behind the scenes. Medicine is messy, he argues, filled with unknowns and human error.

Because of Atul’s book, I now know that there are an estimated 17 million to 21 million Americans that are afraid of Friday the 13th. Apparently there is a word for this condition: paraskevidekatriaphobia. Who knew? Thanks, Atul. And happy Friday the 13th.

Obama Ends HIV Travel Ban

October 30, 2009

courtesy of

For the past 22 years, the United States has barred people living with HIV from entering the country. Of course, in 1987, when the ban was instituted, HIV had already entered the country (some scientists believe the virus arrived as early as the 1960s). So it’s doubtful that the ban has had any measurable effect on the spread of HIV in the US. And it certainly has not improved our image abroad, where we preach that those living with HIV and AIDS should be treated the same as anyone else. The only thing the ban has done is enrage HIV advocates and public health experts and prevent AIDS conference organizers from holding their meetings here. In short, the ban has been an outrage and an embarrassment.

So it is with great pleasure that I can now report the ban will end in January 2010.

In a speech this morning, President Obama announced that his administration will publish a rule on Monday ending the ban. That rule will go into effect in January 2010.

Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS.  Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease — yet we’ve treated a visitor living with it as a threat.  We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic — yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people from HIV from entering our own country.

If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it.  And that’s why, on Monday my administration will publish a final rule that eliminates the travel ban effective just after the New Year.  Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it.  We are finishing the job.  It’s a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it’s a step that will keep families together, and it’s a step that will save lives.

Kudos, Mr. President. And may I say, it’s about time.

There is some excellent background information here.

Beef: Rethinking What’s for Dinner

October 7, 2009
courtesy of JelleS

courtesy of JelleS

Ground beef is a cheap, ubiquitous source of protein. And after reading this New York Times article by Michael Moss, it’s no longer welcome on my dinner table.

The problem is the processing. Occam’s razor would suggest that beef processors make ground beef by actually grinding up beef. I pictured them using a much larger version of my grandma’s old-timey, crank-handled grinder. And this is kind of true. But what the package doesn’t tell you is that ground beef contains beef scraps, fat scraps, and the ominously vague “beef trimmings.” In addition to being made from bits of “meat” no sensible person would eat whole, ground beef is surprisingly well-traveled. A single package of ground beef might contain meat from several cows from several countries. The process used to manufacture ground beef is unsettlingly akin to the process used to make hot dogs. But at least everyone knows that you shouldn’t ask what goes into a hot dog (chicken entrails? puppy dog tails? pork feet? cow noses?).

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No Seasonal Flu Shot for Canadians?

September 30, 2009



Canadian scientists say they have some preliminary data suggesting that the seasonal flu shot may increase a person’s risk of catching H1N1 (otherwise known as swine flu). How large the increase in risk might be is anyone’s guess as the studies have not been peer-reviewed and published. Yet public health officials are already using the findings to make policy decisions. According to Reuters, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan have decided to delay giving seasonal flu shots to anyone under the age of 65. (Older individuals, those most susceptible to seasonal flu, will still get the flu shot this fall.)

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Of monkeys and malaria

September 4, 2009


In February, I spent several days in the Colombian jungle with Manuel Elkin Patarroyo, a chemistry-loving MD who is searching for a malaria vaccine. Patarroyo is eccentric, controversial and delightfully arrogant. He reportedly once said that if he were American or European (rather than Colombian) he would have already won the Nobel Prize. He has yet to develop a working vaccine, but he says he is close. So close he can almost taste it! So close he already has a name—Colfavac. Read more…

Firefighters battle blaze with helicopters

August 19, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “FireFighting“, posted with vodpod

Kudos to California’s stellar aerial firefighters. Last weekend, they saved the tiny town of Bonny Doon, California.

The blaze, which began August 12, had burned nearly 11 square miles just south of Big Basin Redwoods State Park as of Tuesday evening. The fire forced the evacuation of some 2,400 residents of Boony Doon and nearby Swanton. Most have now returned to their homes. Firefighters expect to have the wildfire under control by Thursday.

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