Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Interesting Changes at UKBA

So UKBA's website has undergone some heavy information updates in the past month, changes which would invalidate my application if they were retroactive. For sanity's sake I can't believe they would try it, as I submitted my form a month before they told anybody anything about them, but the office trying to learn the new criteria and evaluate applications differently based on their submission date could delay things. I'm trying to keep a cool head. I still have 8 of 10 fingernails.

As of December 22, everyone who is applying for Tier 1 and Tier 4 visas must have a biometric residence permit. This is a big change, as when I applied for my Tier 4 (Student) in 2009 I was told not only that I should not apply for one, but that I couldn't have one. Moreover, only Tier 1 (General) applications needed one at the time, and my application is under Tier 1 (Post-Study Work), a completely different form and set of criteria. I mentioned a few posts back that there was a weird confusing page on the application regarding BRPs, and now I see why.

I've read news that UKBA seeks to do away with the post-study work visa, which exists to provide a route to work for non-EU graduates, but that they haven't done so quite yet. One of their representatives was quoted recently saying "The fact that you've taken a class here does not give you the right to settle here" which makes me feel all warm and cozy. The message to graduates is clear: we want your obscenely-inflated tuition fees. We don't want you. I feel used.

The thing that really irks me about this is that it is pathetically inconsistent. A high school dropout from Poland who speaks no English and only understands the rudiments of lawnmowing has more of a right to be here than a native English speaking American with a Master's degree. Under current laws no one from the EU has to do anything at all to get a legal job, settle his or her family and put the kids in school, or even claim unemployment benefits in the UK, but Americans who paid for the right to even apply to be here, were subjected to intense scrutiny and prodding as to the validity of their identities and courses, paid extortionate tuition fees contrasted with their EU classmates, worked hard to earn a high qualification, and clearly had to be able to afford to fly here 'cos we sure as hell couldn't pack grandma in the Chevy and drive across the Atlantic are told clearly and flatly, "get out."

I know there are jerks out there who make up phony universities to provide an entry route to otherwise-unqualified migrants who just want to loaf around here. I realize that every country has its fill of useless freeloaders and shouldn't be obligated to take on other countries' bums. I know the standard of living is pretty attractive here, but the country can't afford to pay for every Joe Blow to mooch off its socialized services. I'm not that obtuse.

But eliminating the Post-Study Work Visa won't help you whittle down the number of bums who wind up here. Indeed, the whole reason the visa programme was developed was to ensure that only useful, qualified graduates could stay. I had to provide detailed letters from my school to prove I'd earned a real MA from a real, accredited university while here on a valid student visa. If a certificate of completion from Joe's Diploma Mill is making the cut it is a sign that you need to perform some internal corruption sweeps, not take away career opportunities from the highly-educated graduates your business community needs and your internal revenue service would appreciate. There are probably some highly-educated foreign graduates of British universities who could help you make them.

I'm not going to try and tell anyone what their laws should be, but I do believe the laws a country creates must be enforced fairly. If I'm not welcome, then Piotr shouldn't be either.

BBC rejection letter

Ha! I just got a tersely-phrased automated rejection letter from the BBC for a gig I applied to in September. I figured that had happened about two months ago. Good to know Auntie is upholding her reputation for punctuality and efficiency.

I actually received an email about this in mid-December letting me know the short-listing process for the gig had been delayed due to schnumaya-hummana, and they would let me know something shortly. This letter described my reason for rejection similarly as schnumaya-hummana, or "we regret we are unable to provide more detailed feedback at this stage, but please apply again to another suitable role." It even provided a link to other jobs that could reject me based on my immigrant status.

Well hey, maybe this is a sign--not that my visa application will be accepted necessarily, but that pencil-pushers in the UK are finally back at their desks.

Monday, January 24, 2011

analytics, part 2

I recently remembered I had a google analytics account. I tend to forget and leave it quietly ticking away to itself for months on end--partly because very few people read my writing, and partly because I still don't really understand what half of its data means. I check in, check that the usual states and countries have lit up, smile to myself, then log out and ignore it for another quarter. If I were trying to make money or promote something aside from my currently-useless résumé perhaps I would pay closer attention to it, but for now and for my needs it's little more than a nifty piece of technology.

There is something delightful, though, about clicking through the maps and playing "guess which friend read this month" based on the cities their IPs are routed through. Some are easy, some are bizarre. I tend to get a lot of accidental pageviews from India and former Soviet states, and my "motivated self-starter" posting from three years ago is actually the top entry if you Google the phrase. (I wonder how many HR recruiters stumble across That in an average month.) But the little orange dots over my friends' and family's towns generally account for the lengthiest site visits, a fact that both fills me with a funny sentimental pride and keeps me on my guard about writing anything too obnoxious or controversial. Based on the US data set I don't think my grandmother knows my URL, which can only be a good thing. It is amusingly helpful that everyone I know lives in different states. As long as Arkansas stays blank I think I'm safe (unless it's routed through Honolulu, or grandma secretly gets my postings printed off in Georgia and has them mailed to her.) None of my really controversial, deranged-sounding sentiments ever make it out of my living room, which is probably why I'm still employable.

The whole point I guess I can't avoid making is that I know at least someone is reading, but comments are rare. If you formulate an opinion about what I write, even if it's "damn you stupid" or "wow, that's offensive" please let me know. I'm slowly losing my mind worrying and waiting for UKBA to let me stay in England (they're trying to do away with the type of visa I qualify under--something I'm completely helpless against) and the opportunity to get into a heated, research-driven debate with someone over an inconsistency, prejudice, or other shortcoming in my discourse would do wonders to distract me from my current hand-wringing.

Speaking of which, I found out this weekend that a bat-shaped puppet Boy and I gave to his mother for her birthday has been introduced to her first graders as Ukba, winged guardian of the British Isles (may he grant asylum to the meek and cast out law-evaders with his golden trident). As many of her students' families are from overseas she restrained herself from adding "and if you're naughty, he'll send you home!" but she came close. That made my day.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Y'know what's cool? Compasses.

I've been doodling a bit while waiting for my work visa application to process so I can apply for a National Insurance number so I can apply for a job. (I've also been reading and listening to many books, and cleaning my house, and when it's not raining, just wandering around.) I've always enjoyed rose windows, so it didn't come as a shock to discover that I also enjoy crop circles and take delight in figuring out how they're made. I'm not a maths whiz by any stretch of the imagination, but I do fancy a good pattern.

Also, this is my 350th posting on this blog. (I have 45 on my other blog but they're not nearly so angry or full of bile as this one.) Woo! It only took me 4 and half years.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lire et Repondre

A response to This which is itself a response to This but neither seem to bother referring to This:

The issue the folks over at Uncommon Descent fail to recognize, and a fact the folks over at Pharyngula have failed to bother mentioning, is that one's views on theology are irrelevant to this debate. Neither theism nor atheism nor anything in between have any impact on one's views regarding his or her own species. Indeed, some atheists are certainly more protective of their species than many religious people, just as some religious people can justify their value for progeny without any regard for their sacred texts. The issues are neither mutual nor exclusive.

What Might affect one's answers to the questions, however, are other, lighter -isms--I'll be focusing on humanism, anarchism, pragmatism, and capitalism, which I think are practiced by athe- and the-ists in roughly equal proportions. These -isms are a level closer to one's daily life than the great question of Where the Universe Came From. The moral codes upheld by each different group will provide clearly different answers to the questions. (For the sake of this discussion, the term Moral will be used in its purest form--adherence to the rules, bylaws, or expectations of a particular institution.)

Without further ado: the answers to the questions according to different philosophical sub-groupings, assuming the person answering is an atheist or religion-neutral. Answer set 1. Humanists.

(a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human? Yes.

(b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person? Yes.

(c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life? Rights are codes of conduct established by human cultures to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at happiness, so if we affirm that the baby is human and we acknowledge our society's codes, the codes apply to it. Yes.

(d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them? The survival of our species is our responsibility and no one else's. If we want our species to continue to exist, we must ensure the next generation is born and raised to fend for itself.

(e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult? Yes. Rightness and wrongness in terms of the species are absolute. We must responsibly maintain and promote the survival and happiness of everyone in our species who is beneficial to it.

Answer set 2: Anarchists.

(a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human? Yes, but so's the Unabomber. The fact that they contain a full set of homo sapiens sapiens genes doesn't mean anything about them.

(b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person? If they can't think for themselves, no. Person-hood is awareness.

(c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life? No one has an inherent right to anything. It is of course arguable that since no-one has the right to live, no one has any more right than anyone else to live, but it doesn't mean the beginning of life is special or should be protected. If the baby's parents want to keep it alive, that's their concern.

(d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them? Again, they have no more or less right to live than any other living thing. I don't have the right to kill it, but it doesn't have the right to be alive.

(e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult? Rightness and wrongess are social constructs intended for the training and control of children. Thinking individuals must determine what is best for themselves--no set of codes or absolutes should dissuade them. It is not up to me to decide how you live or think. If it is best in your situation to do away with an adult or a child, that is your concern. Only when the person in question is me or someone who I'd rather keep alive does it become my problem. The total human population size is thoroughly irrelevant.

Answer set 3: Pragmatists.

(a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human? Yes, it has the same genetic sequence as adult humans.

(b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person? A person is a thinking, productive member of society, so no.

(c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life? Babies of course have potential value--as workers, thinkers, and functional members of society--but none of that is actualized. Until the child has begun to exhibit some cognitive and physical function with which it can provide for itself or others it actually has negative value. It occupies the attention and energy of others (its parents, teachers, babysitters, and the like), it consumes food and requires heating, space, and shelter, which require energy to produce, and yet it does not contribute to its society in return. We of course assume that at some point in its future that it will begin to make this contribution, but we have no guarantee that this will be so. As long as its value is not calculable, it is impossible to determine if the child has any.

(d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them? It depends on the actual value of the baby in question. Since that cannot be determined, and because all newborns have equal potential to be useful or detrimental to society one cannot decide if their lives should be preserved in any absolute terms.

(e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult? Not as wrong as killing an adult whose usefulness or benefit to the species is greater than their consumption, but more wrong than killing an adult who causes damage to the species or consumes more than they produce. Either way, much more time and energy has gone into creating the adult than the infant, so it is less of a waste of time and work to lose an infant than a functioning, useful adult. Though after an adult has outlived his usefulness, he is functionally worth less than the infant, for his lifetime energy consumption exceeds his current productiveness, whereas the infant's energy consumption and output are both low.

Answer set 4: capitalists.

(a) Do you believe that a newborn baby is fully human? Irrelevant--people buy accessories for their cars and treats for their dogs. You do not need to be fully human to be a part of our economy. We have machines that budget for and buy accessories for other machines--in my view they are just as human as a homo sapiens who does the same task.

(b) Do you believe that a newborn baby is a person? Person-hood is directly related to one's contribution to the economy, so as long as its needs contribute to the economy, yes. It may not be doing the purchasing, but money must be spent on its behalf, which means extra money must be earned by an adult or caretaker than the adult would need on his or her own. Even in utero the baby is a person, provided its pre-natal care is paid for with insurance or out of pocket.

(c) Do you believe that a newborn baby has a right to life? Depends who's paying. If the parents' insurance premiums are paid up and the birth doesn't require extra money on the behalf of the state or the citizenry, the baby owes its life to its parents and it is their right to decide if it deserves it. If the parents depend on welfare or expect the hospital to eat the cost, the child owes its life to the generosity of its community and it should be their right to decide if it deserves it.

(d) Do you believe that every human person has a duty towards newborn babies, to refrain from killing them? Again, it's a matter of cost/benefit ratio. These days keeping them alive requires more money than the alternative, but this was not always so, nor is it so in some cultures. If the child in question is considered a commodity, do you believe it will sell for more than the net cost of feeding and clothing it while in your possession? Or if you don't intend to sell it, what is the cost of educating it, contrasted with the purchasing power that education may lead to? If more money is likely to be spent on it than it will likely earn for itself or you, then no.

(e) Do you believe that killing a newborn baby is just as wrong as killing an adult? An adult who is current on his mortgage, working 40 hours a week at $20/hr or higher, paying off his student loans at at least 8.5% interest, has at least one car loan in good standing and has spent at least $15,000 cash for a wedding has far more value than a normal baby who has cost at most $15,000 in extra food for its mother, pre-natal care and delivery. If the child is unwell but the parents have cash in hand for just such an incident it may be worth the same as a starter home, which is good for the hospital, but still not the same value as a fully-functioning worker. Indeed, if the pregnancy has removed the child's mother from the workforce for any length of time then the child on whose behalf leave was taken has negative value to the mother's employer, particularly if she qualifies for paid maternity leave. After ten years of life a typical child generally has consumed revenue equal to the value of one pre-owned boat or the employment of 3 college graduates for two years. That said, if the child was produced using in-vitro fertilization or another atypical method then by the time of birth their net value may be equal to or higher than a ten year old, particularly if the parents required more than three cycles for it to take. Though then that does bring into question the value of the individual live birth against the pricey but ultimately non-viable embryos(...) no.

Answer set 5: Me.

PZ Myers never said anything about newborn babies' right to life. He just said they weren't people. They aren't--they're genetically human, but they don't think, evaluate, or even have personalities for quite some time after they're born. At three weeks of age a kitten has a more distinct personality than a three-month old human, but this does not mean that the kitten will ever become a person, or the baby will ever become a cat. As soon as the baby's comprehension extends beyond the flavour of its toes it will embark upon the long, difficult transition into person-hood (something I would argue doesn't really set in until around age 22).

Rights are in fact a social construct intended to ensure that laws are enforced equally across all sectors, though this rarely occurs. People's rights, adult and child, are infringed upon constantly. My right to pursue happiness as I see fit is often infringed upon by other people's pursuit of the same thing--and indeed, this is not only unavoidable, but necessary. Rights are an abstraction, and a fairly loose one at that. We may safely state that rights are endowed by the state and may be taken away at any time by the state because let's face it, the truth of 'rights' extends just as far as the truth of 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people.'--e.g. just as far as you can suspend your disbelief. (Riiiiight. No no, the people are in charge. And the ongoing war effort demanded, maintained, and prevented from ending by Haliburton? Fully backed by the people.)

Point is, one's relationship with religion does not directly impact his or her relationship with government, humanity, or even the planet. Jumping to the conclusion that all atheists think alike is the kind of simple-minded knee jerk reaction you'd expect out of a god-botherer.

(see what I did there? it's funny! Because I made myself look like a knee-j...oh, you got it. Sorry.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Come on, BBC

UPDATE 9/01/11: Thank you, Ben Goldacre, for your ability to talk to the right people and find the right numbers. The real story: 584 failures out of 1.355 Million users.

Almost exactly TRIPLE the number in 2005, which I cited as a conservative estimate in any case.


I just read THIS shock-and-alarm article.

Part 1. Understanding Statistics.

Yeah, did you read the whole thing? 584 unintended pregnancies...out of the entire user base...in 11 years.

Eleven years.

Implanon contraceptive devices have demonstrated a failure rate of .05% in clinical trials. 1 in 2000 users may become pregnant. 14 women involved in a lawsuit cited in the above article hadn't even been wearing one--their doctors missed, and nobody noticed. Human error happens--when I got an IUD it took 3 tries--3 IUDs--to get one to fit because I stupidly consented to letting a supervised trainee insert it. (Oh the unimaginable agony. Seriously. Still makes me flinch, and that was three years ago. I don't know how any woman would consent to giving birth, let alone more than once.) So of the 584 failures, probably about 5% had nothing to do with the device at all. It was human error compounded with negligence, exhaustion, or poor eyesight.

The article does not mention the whole number of implant users over the past 11 years, just mentions that it is popular. So I've been looking it up. The NHS National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) reported that, as of 2005, 3% of women age 16-49 were using an implant, and the only one licensed for use in the UK is Implanon. (helpful) So. I asked the department of statistics what those deets were--14 million women were aged between 16 and 49 as of the 2001 census. I'd imagine that number has grown considerably, but that's the most recent official data. The CIA world factbook bets the UK has 20 million women between 15 and 64, or probably closer to 17 million women of childbearing age.

So. As of 2005, 3% of, let's be reasonable and say 15 million used an implant. 450,000 women that year.

This is not the same as the number of implantations, as the implant is intended to be replaced every 3 years.

This is also not the total number of women who have used it since it was introduced in 1999, which IS the non-existent data set the "oh the humanity!" articles are citing.

I am certain hundreds of thousands more users have existed or currently exist. Merck does not seem to have any sales figures or total-usage-per-country statistics available, and NICE suggests that they don't really know how many women have gotten them, how many times.

The usage rate cited was accurate for the device being available for 5 years. It has now been available--and gaining in popularity--for over 10. Usage may have doubled. Anyone with better data please let me know.

But this is the data I have. okay. .05% failure rate. 250 pregnancies allowable per 450,000 users. we're out by 350. This is clearly an epidemic and the drug should be taken off the shelves.


The failure rate is for perfect use, when neither doctor nor patient is a moron. If you read the relevant trial data you'll find that about half the failures associated with the implant were in fact pregnancies that were already under way. Implanon is not a day-after pill and is not marketed as such. Patient didn't know she was pregnant, urine test came up with a false negative, implant went ahead, statistical fail. Okay, do blood and urine tests before implantation. Zing. Other failures were pregnancies that appeared to have started within a week of insertion. Apparently the patient was so excited to go try it out she didn't hear when the doctor said "give it two weeks to get into your system. If you've already ovulated, this will not retroactively prevent egg release. Hold your horses until you've had your next period." Not an indication of the drug failing to work as it says on the tin.

Still others cited well-known drug interactions (many of which were not mentioned until after the discovery of a pregnancy), poorly-inserted implants, and morbid obesity as reasons for failure (and undetected pregnancy, both for visual and chemical reasons). The device is intended as a one-size-fits-most, and if your body needs more, your doctor should notice that when you show up. These are still not faults of the drug or even its distribution method, but failures in staff training.

It is a common medicine, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously--it should only be administered by trained, informed medical practitioners who understand how it will work for each individual patient. I'm sorry, but "the doctor prescribed it to me even though I'm too fat for it to work" is not a fault of the product, it is a fault of the doctor. There are other things that will work for the obese, such as IUDs and local-absorption products such as the Ring.

Most of the complaints, of the 584 cited by the BBC, were apparently device-expulsion related. Yes, bodies do that. They don't like foreign objects embedded in them. It's why piercings sometimes disappear (my sister had an eyebrow piercing suddenly and painlessly vanish. The ring just fell off in her hand. True!) and how splinters quietly slip away. If the device is properly implanted subcutaneously this is less likely to happen. Again, Human Error. If the damn thing falls out, and you run off and get knocked up anyway, don't blame the device. Blame your stupid self for not calling your doctor immediately and saying "look bitch, the damn thing fell out" and using condoms until you can get it re-inserted properly.

There may have been a few people for whom the drug just didn't work. I'm sure there are. And people have gone off it for reasons such as weight gain, headache, mood changes, and desire to have children. Some people have expressed anger about scars the IMPLANTED BIG PIECE OF PLASTIC GOD DAMN DO YOU LISTEN TO YOURSELF WHEN YOU SPEAK? left after removal. These are all well-documented risks that you should discuss with your doctor in a pre-insert session so you can determine if this is the right birth prevention method for you.

The 584 pregnancies are not statistically relevant. They should not deter women who wish to prevent pregnancy from using this product.

Part 2. Why I'm Angry.

I'm not surprised to see the BBC's health team cite piss-poor statistics again. Every time an issue regarding medicine or public health comes up they manage to completely blow it out of proportion, be completely wrong, or simply not understand the scientific relevance of the data they're citing, pro or con. Their statistical analysis team is pathetic, probably because it's one high school-aged intern in a windowless room with an unrestricted internet connection (for medical research, after all) and an HD monitor for better porn viewing. They're usually wrong, and if they're not wrong, they're exaggerating, and if they're not exaggerating, it's not relevant.

Nevertheless, they have a responsibility to uphold when it comes to issues of public health, particularly family planning issues. (don't you hate that term? 'family planning--of course everyone plans to have a family someday, just not right now!' what about 'family prevention' issues? That's my kind of term.) The BBC is the most respected news provider in the world. What they write gets read and trusted.

Most people do not read news articles' statistics with an air of complete unbelief. Most people do not have the time or patience to check their facts and figure out where their numbers are coming from, or are composed of. Most people just read "600 pregnancies! This stuff is useless! I'll never waste my money on it, no way. I'll trust my good sense." Not realizing that it's 600 out of hundreds and hundreds of thousands, not realizing that most of the failures are in fact unrelated to the medicine entirely, not realizing that this news is not newsworthy. It's the 5th most popular story on their site today. The BBC is affecting people's judgement with their pure, unadulterated idiocy. Some dumb teenage girls who were considering an implant may now decide to try their luck without, ('cos hey, you know what's smart? teenagers.) because Doofus in the office wanted to make a sensational headline. Or they'll go with the Estrogen/Progesterone combi pill, which has over 60 years worth of reported side effects and time-sensitive dosage related failures to its name.

This insert is one of dozens of medicines which have emerged in response to the regular failures of the original pill. We know it sucks. It works, but at such a cost as to make it not worthwhile to many people. The daily pills at exactly the same time; the weight-gain, the bloating, the depression, the nausea, the acne, the drug interactions, the fibroids, the migraines...it's all well-reported. Is Implanon the be-all fix? Of course not. We can always strive to improve it, and there's plenty of other options that work well for plenty of women. I'm happy with a non-hormonal IUD. In 10 years I'll have to get another one, but hopefully by then the fear will have passed. But the point is, it is hugely irresponsible for the BBC to wag its ass around bad-mouthing what are, even where they aren't perfect, clear improvements on the old medicine. It is stupid to try and shock the public into mistrusting a drug which is far more trustworthy than most alternatives, including Old Reliable.

The new drugs have developed because people figured out how to do things better, even if the primary improvement needed was in the patient herself. Implants and IUDs don't have different numbers in the 'perfect use' and 'typical use' columns. Because they don't rely on a normal human brain with a normal memory and normal habits to keep them working. If you miss one Pill, even by a few hours, your entire month is wasted. That's not reliable, even if the chemical in them technically is.

Implanted hormonal birth control is the best option for teenagers--it's low-dose so it doesn't screw with their brains or bodies too much, it steadily delivers, they don't have to think about it, it may slightly lower libido which could help them focus in school, and as IUDs may slightly increase your likelihood of contracting an STI if you sleep around they're a better bet for kids with poor impulse control or who get pressured by stupid boys out of using condoms.

Throwing teen girls directly into daily pill regimens does not teach responsibility. It relies on a responsibility that is usually absent--a dearth which is likely to have devastating consequences. Our state and culture should encourage usage of thought-free birth control for girls. The Pill has gone the way of the Studebaker--the clunky, awkward old technology without anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, or airbags. Birth control needs to keep you safe from yourself as well as others, which pills cannot be relied upon to do--particularly when you're in situations (lake house weekends) where sexual activity is likely (the whole reason you're there.)


I also believe our state and culture should encourage teenage through college-age boys and girls to think that buying condoms is coooool. It's just not right that it's so awkward to go to the student health centre and see the big fishbowl full of brightly-coloured prophylactics on the desk next to the kind-eyed elderly receptionist. "I..I want them, I know they're there for us, there's even a heart-shaped sign on the front that says 'Take what you need!' but...but...what if she's a widow? What if she hasn't had any in like, half a century? What if she's judging me, or jealous? How am I going to get any good use out of these if all I can think about is the old condom lady?" I remember gingerly taking a couple on my way out one day after having my arse x-rayed, just because I can't resist free stuff, and she looked at me, smiled, and said "Always the girls taking those. I don't think the boys can face me for them, but I've always insisted on having them out for you kids. Be safe!" I smiled as I left the building--my bruised but not broken coccyx still aching--then shuddered at the idea of ever using Sweet Old Lady Condoms.