Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Don't be a fucking idiot. Vaccinate your kids.

There's a terrifying story on Stuff (see link) about a family in New Zealand who opted not to vaccinate their children and then watched their 7 year old suffer for three weeks and almost die from tetanus.  If you know me or have read this blog at all, you m ow that I am completely pro-vaccine.  
Vaccines save lives.  End of discussion. The only reason we actually have this debate at all is because vaccines are so effective.  So effective that no one who is a parent today saw a friend die of tetanus or smallpox or become physically disabled from polio.  Our parents did.  My dad's friend H had polio as a child, and it stunted his growth and left him with a limp.  But we didn't, because we were all immunized.  That means we aren't scared of these diseases.

We should be.

Child Suffering from Smallpox

According to this article in JAMA, prior to 1947 there were a combined  average of 10,433 deaths per year in the US from measles, mumps, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, rubella, smallpox and pertussis.  In 2004, there were a TOTAL of 31 deaths from these illness in the US; 27 from pertussis and 4 from tetanus.  

Holy shit.  Without accounting for the massive increase in population in the US, this means that 10,402 people don't die each year because of vaccines.

The anti-vaccine fanatics will have you believe that because vaccines are so dangerous, we are actually no better off.

Here's the truth.  In the US there are about 11,000 adverse reactions to vaccines reported each year.  About  1600 of these result in hospitalization, and 220 result in deaths.  

Hmmm 10,433 versus 220.  Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather that vaccines had no risk - but nothing in life (especially medical procedures) are without risk.

Remember, public health is a game of odds, and the odds of saving lives are clearly on the side of vaccines.

Don't be an idiot.  Vaccinate your kids.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When Students Are Smarter Than Teachers

One of the big news stories around here this week is how Dawson College expelled a student for exposing a security flaw in the online course management software they use.  The software, called Ominvox, is used in many CEGEPs (junior college) in Quebec.

Here's the gist of the flaw:  Pages containing sensitive information about users (students and teachers) are given encrypted URLs, but apparently the URL still contains pieces of the staff or student ID number.  Simply by changing those numbers, anyone logged in to the system can have information about any other user.

The student in question Hamed Al-Khabaz, immediately reported this gaping security hole to the College's head of IT.  He got a pat on the back.  After few days, he ran a program to see if the vulnerability was still there.  Good follow-up on his part.

The College then threatened to press charges and ultimately expelled the kid.


The correct course of action should have been:
1.  "Holy crap - thanks for finding this really serious problem with our system, we'll get that fixed right away."
2. "Here's your diploma. You can go home now."

Seriously.  This kid is smart, thorough and above all HONEST.  This first thing he did when he found the problem was tell a grown up.  And then he got expelled.

I thought that the mission of a college - or any other school for that matter - was education.  I didn't think that this mission was restricted to the classroom.  Well what the hell do the administrators at Dawson think they are teaching this student, and all their students, by their actions?

They are teaching him to toe the line, to cover his ass and never trust anyone in a position of authority.  Clearly these are superb lessons.


I hope that my own children can act with the clarity of thought, integrity, thoroughness and honesty that Hamed Al-Khabaz did.

This whole incident started back in September of 2012, and we're only hearing about it now, because the company behind the software, SkyTech (not Skynet) forced Al-Khabaz to sign an NDA.  In my capacity as a teacher, I used Omnivox everyday, and I have not heard a thing about it - including whether or not the vulnerability has been repaired.

In an interesting about-face, SkyTech has now offered Al-Khabaz a scholarship so that he can complete his studies at a private college.  They should hire him.

Institutions of all kinds, governments, companies, schools, and parents, need to remember that the example we set by our actions often provides a more powerful lesson than anything else.

Watch this clip of Al-Khabaz being interviewed on CBC News.

You can sign a petition to encourage Dawson College to reinstate Hamed Al-Khabaz here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Teaching My Son to Love Justin Bieber

All of my kids love Justin Bieber - and would gladly tell anyone about it; at least until recently.  Something sad - and certainly not uncommon - has happened to Curious Boy recently.  At his last birthday party, the subject of JB came up.  My daughters, and the one other girl there had no problem saying that they like (or loved) Justin - although the 7 year old friend has "moved on" to One Direction.  The rest of the gang (boys) were quick to say that JB sucked, or to make gross faces.  Curious Boy held his tongue.  I noticed what was going on, and I made point to be vocal about the fact that I like Justin Bieber's music.

Quick aside:  I do like Justin Bieber.  I grew up listening to Doo-Wop, Motown, the Beatles and other melodic pop.  I'm not saying that JB is John Lennon, but I have a soft spot for catchy pop tunes.  On top of that, since I saw the movie "Never Say Never", I have a lot of respect for him and his family.

Now, back to my main point.  Since then, CB has been very anti-Justin.  He makes faces when there's a Bieber song on the radio; he won't watch "Never Say Never" with his sisters.

It's easy to see where these boys get the idea that they've got to hate Justin. I was at a party recently where the subject of music came up, and my friends - all fathers of young boys - were also quick to slam Bieber.  Even going so far as to say that they would "shoot him in the face" if he were standing there.  Admittedly, this conversation was under the influence of a few bottles of wine.  This sentiment, however, is surely expressed at home - and not only about Justin Bieber.

It's time to be brutally honest.   This kind of exaggerated loathing of a pop star (we're not talking about Mahmoud Amedinejad here) is nothing but thinly veiled homophobia.  Justin Bieber exemplifies many qualities that are traditionally considered feminine in our society.  He has a slight build.  He cares about his hair and clothes.  He talks about love and caring.  Many men worry that expressing that side of themselves will make them less of a man - maybe even (gasp) gay.  You don't have to like his music - but that kind of vitriol is unaccptable, and spreads to our children.

Making it acceptable to hate on JB in your house, teaches your kids to dislike people based on appearance and perception - without even knowing them.  Attaching derogatory names objectifies them and makes them less than human.  This is the direct precursor to intolerance.

I hope that CB comes around about Justin Bieber.  I'll be far more concerned if he starts listening to Flo Rida or some other macho crap.

For more information of language and intolerance, check out Barbara Coloroso.

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