Vaccines and autism, a wedding, predictions and a group to be banned

Some news stories caught my eye.
Firstly, yet another study came to the conclusion that vaccines, and in particular thimerosal, do not cause autism. It was the follow up to a study which saw macaques given various vaccine schedules to see if they developed symptoms consistent with autism. The study is “Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology”.
Amusingly, two of the funders of the study were Safeminds and the National Autism Association, both firm proponents of the vaccine autism causation hypothesis. They probably funded it because they believed it would provide evidence in support of the hypothesis. I know schadenfreude is improper, but that’s what I’m feeling now.
On a more heartwarming note, Anita Lesko and Abraham Talmage Nielsen, both autistic, got married and hosted an “All-autism” wedding. Every member of the wedding party was on the spectrum – the two flower girls and two ring bearers, the harp player, the officiant, D.J., groomsmen, usher, and the person who baked the wedding cake.
I previously said that Thora Birch should quit acting. All I did is prove I would make a useless fortune teller. She’s been cast in “Colony”.
One last thing: If you are on Facebook, please report this group. Their name is “Families against autistic shooters”, they believe that autistics are school shooters, and that’s all I need to say.

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Vaccines do not cause autism. This should not be up for discussion.

Although I didn’t watch the most recent Republican Primary debate, I read of it afterwards. “Depressing” doesn’t even start to cover it.
Donald Trump has shown just how clueless he is on autism. He raised the false claim about an “autism epidemic”, then repeated the “vaccines cause autism” lie. This despite the fact that Wakefield’s lies were discredited over five and a half years ago. It is mindblowing, and not in a good way, that this ignorant, arrogant pinhead is in the running.
Bad though Trump’s inaccuracies were, one sort of expects that from him. What was even sadder was the response from Dr Ben Carson, another of the candidates, who was asked for his comments on Trump’s remarks.
Carson is a paediatric surgeon, and as such will be well aware of the dangers an unvaccinated child poses to one who has received a transplant or is immunosuppressed from cancer treatment. He could have pointed out that Wakefield’s “study” was retracted and hasn’t been independently replicated, and that the latest research reveals that “too many too soon” is also dead wrong. He should have stomped on Trump’s bad argument hard. Instead, he gave a toothless, wishy-washy response that could be twisted to mean support. Fortunately, Bernie Sanders came to the party.
Five and a half years after “The Lancet” retracted Wakefield’s research, the “vaccines cause autism” lie should not be up for discussion. That it is, and that it isn’t crushed the moment it appears, is disappointing.

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Thoughts dump on matters, especially films

This is going to be a bit of a thoughts dump. My mind is doing its usual and has been pulling me all over the place since yesterday. It’ll be about the cinema, mainly.
I’ve downloaded a report from Human Rights Watch named “Complicit in Exclusion”. It alleges that the South African education system deliberately excludes children with disabilities from schools. I plan on reading it, and then writing a blog post (or more than one) on it.
I got a shock when returning from the shops today. The house across the road from the entrance to the complex where I live had police tape over the front gate. It turned out that the owner’s skeleton had been found. Yes, skeleton. She died around two years ago.
How can someone’s death go undetected for two years? Did she not have family? And why did the neighbours have no idea about it?
Very disturbing.
I’ve seen a few films this year. The worst so far has been “Pitch Perfect 2”. The setup was preposterous (and not in a good way), the humour was forced, and it was clichéd beyond belief. I worked out how it would end at about the half hour mark, and after rolling my eyes, got up and left the cinema. That’s the first time I’ve ever done that.
“Spy”, directed by Paul Feig and starring Melissa McCarthy, was the best film so far. It’s a parody of the spy genre, particuarly the James Bond films, and it is one of the funniest films, if not the funniest, that I’ve ever seen. I laughed throughout, even to the end. It’s rare for me to do that.
In order to be effective, parodies have to understand the genre that they’re parodying. In fact, the best parodies are able to work as examples of the genre they’re parodying, and “Spy” fits that bill. It actually works as a spy film.
The last ever Monty Python film, “Absolutely Anything”, has been released in the UK. I was looking forward to seeing it next year (it’s South African release is listed as June 16 next year), but now I’m worried. I’ve been reading the reviews and only one so far has been positive. All the rest have been, to put it kindly, unenthusiastic.
The consensus is that the film is nothing like the Pythons’ earlier work, that it is clichéd and contrived, that “Bruce Almighty” did it better and that it is a huge waste of talent. The impression I get is “we expected better from you”.
Thora Birch was a child actress who appeared in numerous films including “American Beauty” and looked to be making the transition to successful grown up actress, but her career has stalled. The last thing she appeared in was “Petunia” in 2012, and she was a producer on that film. Before that her last role was in “The Pregnancy Pact” in 2010.
One suggestion is that her manager, who is also her father Jack Birch, is the cause of her problem. This doesn’t strike me as too convincing. According to the article, she was fired from “Dracula” after her father threatened an actor for giving her a back rub, but given the inconvenience and cost of replacing someone, this sounds unlikely. It seems far more plausible that this was just the final straw after a string of fights, and the director and producers decided enough was enough and got rid of her.
In January 2014, Hadley Freeman interviewed Birch for “The Guardian”. Freeman’s narrative is of a young actress used up and discarded by Hollywood, but a read through of the comments below the article followed by a careful re-reading of the article show a very different picture. Comments like “I just didn’t take advice and I think people got pissed off at me for not taking advice” and “I had that kind of ‘oh, piss off, everyone’ attitude” expose someone who was antagonistic and didn’t listen. She was fired from “Election” because “I read the script one way and it became clear that [the director] had seen something else, so that was it. I just thought, this is ridiculous: why is it written this way?” In other words, instead of doing what the director wanted, she did it her way and lost the role. Like most fields filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and Thora comes across as someone who wouldn’t collaborate.
Despite the fact that she is now out of favour, Birch has an estimated net worth of $8 million due to her long career. At this point, it would be best for her to accept that she has alienated too many people to ever act again, take her money, go to a counsellor and/or psychologist and work out what she wants to do with her life, and then do it.

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On due diligence and consequences

One of the websites I frequently browse is FMyLife It’s the english version of the french website “Vie de Merde (literally “Life of Shit”). It has people sharing stories of things going horribly wrong for them, typically in hilarious ways but sometimes not. Readers have the option to vote either “I agree, Your life sucks” or “You totally deserved it”. One of the FMLs in the latter category is this one from a Swedish woman whose daughter lied about her husband having a girlfriend as revenge for being grounded. Instead of checking the claim out, she confronted her husband, refused to believe his denials, and filed for divorce. The consensus is that it was idiocy to not thoroughly investigate the claim, and that her husband is completely justified in proceeding with the divorce, given the hell she put him through.
I was thinking of that FML when I learnt of a very sad event. In June, a six year old spanish boy died from diphtheria. His parents were antivaccine. Other people caught the disease, but because they were vaccinated they survived.
What do the two things above have to do with each other? In each case, an innocent person suffered because somebody else failed to perform even rudimentary due diligence. I do feel for the boy’s parents and I’m aware they’ll regret their actions for the rest of their lives, but at the same time I’m livid at them. They believed internet liars and disbelieved their physicians, and it was their son who paid the price. His life is over before it began.

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I’m fine. Shaken, but fine.

I was going to write about the six year old unvaccinated boy in Spain who died of diphtheria. Maybe next time.
I received my Advanced Technical Test Analyst Certificate today, but that’s not what I’m going to write about either.
Today, as I was driving home from work, two men tried to hijack me.
At around half past four, I was pulling up to a roundabout, and stopped because a bakkie was crossing, when two men ran in front of me and started banging on my car’s bonnet. My first reaction was annoyance. Then I saw that one of them had a pistol in his hand.
I freaked. Literally. I ducked down and floored it. Taken by surprise, the would-be hijackers jumped out of the way as I drove at them and then over the island and away.
Lucky me.
The adrenaline still hasn’t worn off completely. Also, it took a while for the “sand at the back of my mouth” feel to go, but it’s gone now. One last thing: I know that what I did was very foolish and could have got me killed, but I was panicking.

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Today at work, I received the following communication from the South African Software Testing Qualifications Board (SASTQB):
Dear Julian,
SASTQB Certified Advanced Technical Test Analyst Level Exam
We are pleased to inform you that you have completed the SASTQB Certified Test Analyst Level exam successfully.
The passing grade is 65% on all possible points and you scored 73.75% in the exam that took place in Gauteng on 20 July 2015.
Your SASTQB certification will be mailed to you within a month.
We would like to congratulate you on your accomplishment and welcome you to the prestigious group of Certified Testers Advanced Technical Test Analyst Level holders.
Your name as a Certified Tester Advanced Technical Test Aalyst will be displayed on the SASTQB website.
Software Testing Qualifications Board


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Breaking the silence

And I’m back.
Today, I wrote the exam for the Advanced Technical Test Analyst Certification. I get my results in a few weeks. As I write this, dinner is on the go and I have a feeling of relief that it’s now over.
What was interesting was that everyone around me was more confident in my abilities than I was myself. My parents; the instructor who taught me; the people at my office. All were certain that I would not only pass, but pass with distinction. It was only over the past weekend during my last bit of studying that I became more sure of myself, and only now that I’ve written the exam that I’m confident I passed and fairly confident I obtained a distinction.
So what’s been happening since I’ve been offline? Firstly, Venus and Jupiter were both visible in the night sky together. Quite an interesting experience to look up and see two stars, and know they’re both planets.
If you listen to “Greed” on Jacaranda FM, you may have heard my voice. Yep, that was me, not getting “Fight Song” by Rachel Platt. Annoying to miss out on R10,000, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
California passed SB277, which makes it harder to obtain vaccine exemptions.
On a sadder note, Omar Sharif and Roger Rees both passed away. I remember Rees best as Robin Colcorde on “Cheers” and the Sheriff of Rottingham in “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”.
And now for some rather more disturbing news. Bill Cosby admitted to procuring quaaludes (street name, roofies) to give to women he wanted to have sex with.
When I heard the initial complaints against Cosby, I was suspicious about him. To me, this admission is the smoking gun.
It looks like Bill Cosby is indeed a rapist.

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