Gawker founder files for bankruptcy

This is just so satisfying:

Gawker founder Nick Denton filed for personal bankruptcy Monday in the aftermath of a Florida jury’s awarding $140 million to Hulk Hogan in a privacy case revolving around a sex tape posted on Gawker.com.

As a result of the verdict, which is being appealed, Gawker’s parent company has gone into bankruptcy and is up for sale.

Denton’s bankruptcy filing Monday says he owes $125 million to Hogan, a former professional wrestler. Filing for bankruptcy helps him keep Hogan from collecting.

Overall, Denton’s filing says he has $100 million to $500 million in liabilities and that his assets are worth $10 million to $50 million.

This meat of this story – Gawker losing in court – isn’t exactly breaking news at this point, but there was a part of this story that made me want to write about it:

Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel bankrolled the lawsuit filed by Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, against Gawker. That raised concerns about the wealthy using their power to bring down media outlets.

“I am consoled by the fact that my colleagues will soon be freed from this tech billionaire’s vendetta,” Denton tweeted. Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, was outed as gay by a Gawker-owned website.

Hogan’s attorney David Houston said in a statement that Denton’s bankruptcy “has nothing to do with who paid Mr. Bollea’s legal bills, and everything to do with Denton’s own choices and accountability. If even one person has been spared the humiliation that Mr. Bollea suffered, this is a victory.”

I was previously unaware of anything to do with Thiel, but I’m happy he was involved. I don’t know who he is or what his politics are, but I’m going to guess he doesn’t ideologically match up with the social justice warrior views of Gawker. Often, the regressive left will use this mismatch of views to justify ruining a person’s life. “Why, we’re just pointing out hypocrisy!”, they’ll say. Don’t believe it. That’s bullshit. They’re getting revenge by doing something wrong. Not only are their motivations ill conceived, but their execution is nothing more than an exercise in the belief that two wrongs make a right. They don’t. Ever.

I’m glad Thiel was able to exact ethically-sound revenge. Gawker did something wrong, so when he had the chance to put the screws to them and point out their hypocrisy, he did so without committing a wrong himself. He’s a better person than Nick Denton and all the people who have ever supported that garbage website.

Uganda adopts circumcision, finds science works

This is no real surprise:

The growing uptake of medical male circumcision by men in the Rakai district of Uganda is leading to a substantial reduction in HIV incidence among men in one of the districts of the country worst affected by HIV, Xiangrong Kong of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2015) in Seattle, USA, on Thursday…

The study found that circumcision coverage in non-Muslim men increased from 9% during the Rakai circumcision study to 26% by 2011, four years after the trial concluded. Every 10% increase in circumcision coverage was associated with a 12% reduction in HIV incidence (0.88, 95% confidence interval 0.80-0.96).

HIV incidence reduction in women lags behind but is expected to catch up in coming years.

We’ve known for the better part of the past decade that circumcision literally saves lives by acting as a high efficacy vaccine that reduces female-to-male HIV transmission by 60% (which is better than the flu vaccine most years). That we’re seeing the positive results of implementing it as a policy isn’t surprising. Science just works.

Scalia, as predicted

Three years ago I made a prediction about Political Figure Antonin Scalia regarding his professed adherence to stare decisis as it relates to same-sex marriage:

Lawrence v Texas established adequate precedence for the constitutional legalization of same-sex marriage. At least it did in political figure Scalia’s view. (In reality, the 14th Amendment established it.) That means that once same-sex marriage makes it way to the Supreme Court in the coming years, Scalia is going to rule in favor of it. That is, if he really does care about stare decisis. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

I hope I’m wrong, but here’s my prediction: Scalia is going to rule against same-sex marriage in overt defiance of the principles he pretends he holds.

What I was arguing here was that Scalia had whined in Lawrence that the Court’s decision to disallow governmental interference in the bedroom of consenting adults had, effectively, established precedence for same-sex marriage. That is, Scalia wrote in his dissent that if the Court could overturn a state’s ability to legislate against something based upon a moral opposition to homosexuality, then it would also have the power to overturn a state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Since Scalia is a self-professed lover of stare decisis – he believes past decisions must be taken into account in new decisions – it would only make sense for him to side with same-sex marriage proponents. Even though he dissented in Lawrence, the decision set precedent that, according to Scalia himself, the Court had the necessary latitude to strike down any ban on same-sex marriage that was premised on moral opposition. Today, however, he dissented in Obergefell v. Hodges, in blatant violation of his alleged principles and in full satisfaction of my three year old prediction.

Stuart Scott

Every so often an icon emerges in the media. Usually, these people were never meant to be the story. We simply expected them to report the stories. If they did that, we would find ourselves discussing what they had told us, not giving a second thought to where we heard it. That is always good enough. That’s the job. But every so often one of these personalities will shine through the morass. Stuart Scott was one of those people. And now he has died at the age of 49.

Scott had been fighting cancer for the past 7 years. I had no idea this was his third bout with the disease. Hell, I had no idea he was ever even sick. Insofar as this was well-known news (and it was), I managed to miss it. Part of that is sheer chance. I simply didn’t happen to see the news stories. But most of that is because Scott never let it show. Looking back I can see some of the weight fluctuations now, but the strength of his personality always hid whatever physical weakness he may have been experiencing at a given time. He always said to keep fighting – fight, fight, fight – and he lived that. The images and tributes over the past day have made it wildly clear that he was speaking more than mere platitudes. He meant what he said and he lived it entirely.

I only ever mention a celebrity death here once in a great while. Sometimes it’s because I feel bad for the odd life the person had (such as when I mentioned Gary Coleman). Most times, though, it’s because I deeply respected the person (such as with Christopher Hitchens). This is like most times. Stuart Scott stood out as one of the good guys. There are a lot of sportscasters I like and I’ll be sad to hear if any of them die, but Scott’s passing is especially heartbreaking. I wish his family the best.

Here are two videos. One is of Rich Eisen giving his on-air farewell only 10 minutes after hearing of his friend’s death. The other is of Stuart Scott delivering one of the best speeches I’ve heard in a long time.

Circumcision: The evidence still isn’t vanishing

Increasingly, circumcision is becoming a health policy in places where it is needed most. WHO, UNAIDS, and especially The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are some of the groups at the forefront of this fight against deadly diseases and infections. More recently we’ve seen American groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics come out in favor of circumcision. This is in large part due to three extremely strong studies that came out in 2006, but those were really just the final straw. Evidence has been building for the effectiveness of circumcision in fighting disease and infection since the late 70’s, and more specifically it has been building against fighting HIV since the late 80’s. The evidence is in: Circumcision helps protect against infections, penile cancer, and STD’s, including HIV. It’s an extremely important tool that should be promoted around the world. And so, as the debate quickly pivots from whether or not circumcision is effective to figuring out why it is so damn effective, more organizations are coming out in favor of it in ever stronger terms:

U.S. health officials on Tuesday released a draft of long-awaited federal guidelines on circumcision, saying medical evidence supports the procedure and health insurers should pay for it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines stop short of telling parents to have their newborn sons circumcised. That is a personal decision that may involve religious or cultural preferences, said the CDC’s Dr. Jonathan Mermin.

But “the scientific evidence is clear that the benefits outweigh the risks,” added Mermin, who oversees the agency’s programs on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

I went into the circumcision debate many years ago without a dog in the fight. I was neither passionately against the practice nor fervently in favor of it; my general indifference parted greatly with what any Google search will show. However, as I began to hear more and more about the topic, and as I began to study global health issues more and more (especially during the time I was studying and volunteering my time in Haiti), I found my position slowly shifting. But it was indeed a very slow shift. With degrees in both biology and philosophy it was easy to be torn. The evidence had clearly tilted – at the least – in favor of circumcision, but what about the ethical arguments against it? I would need to resolve those concerns before I would support circumcision as a health policy. And that I did. The sole argument the anti-circumcision crowd has against circumcision is that it violates bodily autonomy. But so do other things which many in that crowd clearly support. Namely, vaccines can and do permanently change a person’s body for life without their consent. Looking at circumcision and vaccines, then, under the isolation of the argument from bodily autonomy, what’s the difference? They both change the body forever and neither is done with consent when done to infants/toddlers. The only responses I ever get to this is that vaccines are more effective or that the changes aren’t visible. Pshaw. They aren’t always more effective, and even where they are, so what? The argument from bodily autonomy doesn’t get to be put on the shelf when it’s convenient to ignore. The effectiveness of a procedure is irrelevant; all that matters is the necessity of the procedure. Vaccines and circumcision are both necessary to a healthier world, but neither is an absolute necessity to survival. Yes, more people will die without either, but that’s immaterial. And as for the changes being internal, I guess I wasn’t aware how aesthetics-focused the anti-circumcision crowd was.

I went on a bit of a rant there, but I hope it was effective. The ethical argument – singular, not plural – is weak. Yet the biological argument is strong. And as I learned more, it became quite clear that it was stronger than I initially thought. I freely admit that by the time I became involved in this debate (likely 2009, and as early as 2010 on FTSOS) I should have done all the proper research; I could have easily found myself where I am right now rather than going through a slow shift.

One of the things which always kept me tilted towards being pro-circumcision was the dogmatic attitude of the anti-circumcision crowd. It didn’t matter what evidence was presented to them, their ethical stance trumped everything. That would be fine, of course, since it would be a valid basis for opposition (even if I or anyone else disagrees with it). Unfortunately, this crowd has a habit of attacking perfectly valid science. PZ Myers did this back in 2011 when he said the following:

The health benefits. Total bullshit. As one of the speakers in the movie explains, there have been progressive excuses: from it prevents masturbation to it prevents cancer to it prevents AIDS. The benefits all vanish with further studies and are all promoted by pro-circumcision organizations. It doesn’t even make sense: let’s not pretend people have been hacking at penises for millennia because there was a clinical study. Hey, let’s chop off our pinkie toes and then go looking for medical correlations!

Emphasis mine. Clearly, whereas the organizations promoting circumcision as a health policy or recommendation have had a history of different positions on the matter, it’s ridiculous to say they’re inherently pro-circumcision. Moreover, the irony meter here is off the charts. The anti-circumcision crowd is incredibly vocal, despite being a scientific minority. Indeed, whereas the pro-circumcision groups came to their conclusions only after being presented with evidence, the anti-circumcision groups are composed entirely of people who oppose the practice on ethics first; they cherry-pick the science after the fact.

But that isn’t the important point here. As the title of this post says, the evidence of the benefits is not vanishing. It’s not vanishing with further studies. It’s not vanishing with time. It’s not vanishing at all. All we’ve been seeing is 1) more and more groups coming out in favor of the practice and 2) research focused on why it’s so effective. Myers is plainly wrong. (Of course, all the criticism by Myers is coming from a guy who once had a debate with Jerry Coyne where he said that no evidence could ever convince him of the existence of God. While I share his lack of theistic belief, I don’t share his position here. I can’t imagine a more anti-scientific thing to say than that there is no possible evidence that could convince me of something. I could be convinced unicorns exist. I greatly doubt that will happen, but it’s possible; denying these possibilities when speaking in abstract terms is doltish.)

Anyway.

[The new guidelines] are likely to draw intense opposition from anti-circumcision advocacy groups, said Dr. Douglas Diekema, a Seattle physician who worked on a circumcision policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012.

“This is a passionate issue for them and they feel strongly that circumcision is wrong,” said Diekema, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington.

Indeed, the head of one group did argue against the CDC’s conclusions on Tuesday, saying they minimize potential complications from the procedure.

The guidelines “are part of a long historical American cultural and medical bias to attempt to defend this traumatic genital surgery,” said, Ronald Goldman, executive director of the Circumcision Resource Center.

Notice the name of the anti-circumcision group in that quote: Circumcision Resource Center. Hmm, what other group of people try desperately to sound legitimate despite everything they hold dear? Perhaps it’s the people who run sites and groups like Evolution News and the Discovery Institute and the Geoscience Research Institute – creationist groups. Honestly, I’m not sure who should be insulted more by this association.

Anti-science quacks find success in Maine in their fight against health and vaccines

Vaccine rates for young people entering school has been declining in recent years:

The rate of unvaccinated kindergartners in Maine continues to climb and is now the fifth highest in the nation, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday.

The percentage of Maine parents voluntarily opting out of vaccines for their children is alarming state public health officials who have been working to bolster immunization.

Nearly 800 public school kindergartners in Maine started the 2013-14 school year without receiving the required vaccinations for diseases such as whooping cough and measles because their parents opted not to immunize. That represents 5.2 percent of all kindergartners in the state, up from 3.9 percent the previous year.

This is in large part due to the anti-vax movement that has been steadily gaining ground since the 90’s. Indeed, although disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield had his 1998 study linking vaccines and autism debunked – no one ever reproduced his results, and it was no wonder since he outright made them up – he remains a hero of the anti-vax crowd.

One of the more favored canards of anti-vax quacks is to call herd immunity a myth. Do a quick search and one is liable to find any given quack claiming that herd immunity makes no difference to the health of a state. I recall reading some random anti-vax nobody argue that because vaccines are between 60-80% effective, even with 100% compliance, we could still see an epidemic. Of course, while he spoke of vaccines at-large in an intentionally general sense, he actually linked to CDC statistics on the flu vaccine. I guess it was a coincidence that he found it inconvenient to tell his readers that he was talking about one specific vaccine, huh? So is the high bar set by quacks.

At any rate, for herd immunity to be effective, there needs to be about a 95% vaccination rate. Of course, 100% would be the ideal because we’re talking about saving human lives, but with all the anti-government and anti-science kooks out there, 95% is actually a very achievable number that allows for some bumper space. Unfortunately, sometimes we see areas that fall well below that bumper space. For instance, when vaccine rates for whooping cough fell to 91% in California, communities there saw an outbreak in the disease. Thousands got sick and at least 10 infants died. What makes this all the more heart-breaking is that these infants were too young to be vaccinated, meaning they relied upon the herd immunity around them to remain safe. Anti-vax parents and the quacks they trust are at fault for these deaths. Frighteningly, Maine is on a similar path.

Dishonest media

We all know American media is generally garbage. Aside from Al Jazeera America and foreign broadcasts, TV news media in the US is utterly useless. But it somehow gets worse online. Take this (good version of a) story about a mistake DiGiorno made involving a hashtag on Twitter:

This is just another cautionary tale for any companies on Twitter. Always, always think before you tweet.

DiGiorno Pizza’s account got involved with a trending topic on Twitter last night, which is not out of the ordinary for companies trying to promote their brand online. Unfortnately, the Twitter campaign they decided to jump on was one dedicated to domestic abuse victims sharing their heartbreaking and inspiring stories using the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags.

Obviously, the person operating the account did not know the story behind the hashtag or else they never would have sent out this now deleted tweet that read: “#WhyIStayed You Had Pizza.”

The DiGiorno people then went ahead and personally responded to as many critical tweets as they could. It was a simple mistake anyone could have made, and it’s hard to imagine anyone being reasonably angry with the company at this point. They’ve apologized profusely and made it quite clear that it was a genuine mistake – this wasn’t even a case of a rogue employee trying to make some sort of crass joke.

This good version of the story, surprisingly from E! Online, is titled “DiGiorno Mistakenly Used the Domestic Abuse Twitter Campaign #WhyIStayed to Promote Their Pizza”. Take a look at the headlines from garbage ‘news’ outlets* like HuffPo, Bustle, and an ABC affiliate out of Chicago:

DiGiorno Interrupts Serious Conversation About Domestic Violence To Sell Pizza (HuffPo)

DiGiorno Pizza’s #WhyIStayed Tweet Is Not How You Respond To Domestic Violence (Bustle)

DiGiorno under fire after using #WhyIStayed hashtag to sell pizzas during Ray Rice scandal (ABC affiliate)

Each of these outlets is either ignoring or embracing intention; it’s tough to tell. If they’re simply ignoring the intention of DiGiorno, then they’re being dishonest and bad journalists by not telling the whole story. One imagines the editors at these places hate the saying “It’s the thought that counts.” They would reply to such a phrase, “No! It isn’t the thought! What matters is that I was given an awesome gift for my birthday!” If, on the other hand, they’re embracing intention (and this is where my money is at), then not only are they being wildly irresponsible, they’re actually outright lying. What I mean is, these ‘news’ outlets are heavily implying that DiGiorno intentionally jumped onto a hashtag bandwagon about domestic violence due to some overt, deliberate callousness towards DV victims. Of course, DiGiorno absolutely did no such thing. Yet, in order to get people to click on their garbage sites and articles, they are trying to lead the reader into believing that DiGiorno is some sort of evil company willing to exploit a serious issue in order to sell their product.

*I’m not saying E! Online isn’t a garbage news outlet. I don’t know either way since I don’t read it; it was merely one of the first search results I found with an honest title.