Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mumps and the NHL: Don't blame the vaccine

Sidney Crosby has mumps. He joins a handful of other NHL players to be diagnosed over the past several weeks. According to the Pens medical team, Crosby received a booster shot before the Sochi Olympics last year. So what gives? Already, media types have taken to blaming the vaccine. Here's Trib beat writer Josh Yohe:

And here's Shelly Anderson saying something similar:
So, why are players who have been vaccinated coming down with mumps? It's not the vaccine. The CDC estimates that the two dose mumps vaccine is 88% effective. So if 100 vaccinated individuals are exposed to mumps, we'd expect that around 12 of them would still get mumps. And if, say about 25 vaccinated players from an NHL team were exposed, it's not unreasonable for 2-3 of those players to contract mumps. So if 12% of vaccinated people aren't protected, why are the mumps still pretty rare? It's because of herd immunity. Herd immunity is the concept that if most of us are protected from a disease, we can also protect those for whom the vaccines may be ineffective. We can also protect infants and individuals who cannot receive the vaccine. If we can vaccinate most of the population, the disease cannot spread as much, and it's less likely that people who aren't protected even come into contact with the disease. 

Recently, however, vaccination rates have dropped, and the dropping rates have been concentrated in certain areas. Wealthy parents in southern California, for example, have been opting out of vaccinating their children at alarming rates. This puts children and the greater community at risk of contracting and spreading very preventable diseases. There were 438 recorded cases of mumps in 2013, and 1,078 cases from Jan-Nov of 2014. That's almost 2.5 times as many cases, and we've still got a month to go! Also, if anyone has doubts regarding the efficacy of the vaccine, there were approximately 186,000 cases per year before large scale vaccinations began in 1967. Implementation led to a 99% decrease in mumps cases.

It's no coincidence that I mention the plummeting vaccination rates in southern California. The NHL mumps outbreak is believed to have originated with three players from the Anaheim Ducks: Corey Perry, Francois Beauchemin, and Clayton Stoner. These are wealthy guys who play hockey in southern California. This is total speculation on my part, but it's possible these guys came into contact with the disease in under-vaccinated communities. In any case, it's not the vaccine that's at fault, it's the plummeting vaccination rate that has threatened our herd immunity and made everyone more susceptible to contracting preventable diseases.

Update: There were suspected mumps cases from both the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues before the Ducks' cases, but it's suspected that the visiting locker room in Anaheim was the breeding ground. Also, check out this great piece on Deadspin. McCarthy focuses on the waning effectiveness of the vaccine as one gets older, which probably lowers that 88% effective rate for people who were immunized as children but did not receive boosters as adults. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Everyone needs to shut the hell up about Conflict Kitchen

Now that you’ve completed the arduous task of reading the headline and doubtlessly have strong and emotional opinions tied to today’s topic, please take a step back and a deep breath.

The ongoing argument over food wrappers at Conflict Kitchen’s Palestinian incarnation is, to be charitable, egregiously stupid and infantile. 

Food is the most fundamental and basic aspect of any culture. Since 2010, Conflict Kitchen has offered Pittsburghers the chance to sample cuisine native to places that typically wind up on the less favorable end of American foreign policy. By doing this, it does justice to the residents of these places — it humanizes the conflict. 

The restaurant has featured food from unstable, perpetual war zones, like Afghanistan, to places with whose leadership our country fundamentally disagrees, like Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. It’s undeniable that politics become a prominent part of the conversation should one delve any deeper into these conflicts, but that’s not what Conflict Kitchen is about. It’s about helping people over here realize that people over there are and have always been actual people. It’s about encouraging us to appeal to the very nature of our humanity and find some empathy, whether we ultimately agree or not.

That a food stand nearly 10,000 miles away can’t sell a damn falafel without B’nai Brith taking it as a personal affront from the Heinz Endowments shows how deeply this particular conflict runs, but it also demonstrates what makes having an ongoing, honest and civil discussion about these affairs so important — a discussion that can’t happen when discourse devolves to name-calling and death threats, and that won’t happen when the mere mention of said conflict spurs people on opposing sides of it to the thoroughly disgusting arguments and behaviors we’ve seen since this non-issue became an issue.

To characterize Conflict Kitchen's serving of Palestinian food wrapped in Palestinian opinions as anti-Israel is every bit as facile as arguing that their featuring of North Korean or Afghan cuisine constitute the tacit endorsement of Kim Jong Un or the Taliban. One might as well take it a step further and claim that because Conflict Kitchen only serves food from these places, it is serving as an anti-American splinter cell, here to subvert our citizenry one lunch at a time. No reasonable person could possibly think this.

Pittsburgh is in the midst of a Golden Age. There are truly remarkable people here doing wonderful things. Our track of progressive and community-oriented forward thought has garnered us a ton of positive attention the last five years, but more importantly, it’s made this an entirely pleasant place to live. 

In addition to our art, music and food scenes, we have well-organized forums for discourse on these exact issues, including the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, Global Solutions Pittsburgh and the American Middle East Institute, not to mention your school, your social circles or your own goddamn dinner table, where you can wrap your falafel in whatever literature pleases you.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's Netflix Night in America

Exciting week, lots of great action out there.  Needless to say, there are going to be a lot of moves between now and Friday, when Netflix turns over several dozen big titles and brings in a new batch.  Never fear.  FTC is here to guide you through all the good stuff.


This 2007 period thriller by David Fincher (Fight Club, Gone Girl) is an under the radar hit.  Sure, it clocks in at two and a half hours, but it's sexy, scary and completely episodic-- so taking an intermission is no problem.  And compared to Se7en, this movie is a breeze.  I dare say Fincher started his career with worlds that were a bit too dark and impenetrable; he doesn't have that problem here.  Also: h/t for shooting on a digital camera and making it look good, Dave!  Watch this movie, people.  It's pretty good!

The Twilight Zone

Seasons 1, 2, 3, and 5 are on Netflix.  This is a win for you, a win for me, and a win for everyone in the free world with a decent bandwidth.  Watch this series and try to remember what was going on in the world when it was made.  It is your bridge from surrealism to post modernism, and don't you forget it.

The West Wing

I would find this show compelling if it wasn't so artistically bankrupt. 

American Horror Story

I'm pretty great at not watching TV that isn't Cheers, Seinfeld, Twin Peaks and Star Trek (TNG and DS9).  So when I succumb to a guilty pleasure like this, you've gotta think it's pretty delicious.  Without spoiling too much, American Horror Story is a convoluted piling on of ghost tale cliches,  hidden under the heavy garnishes of violence, sex, profanity, infanticide, school shootings, and unfiltered abuse of someone with Down's Syndrome.  At first, all that is liberating and great, but then you realize how low this art actually is.  I think about how David Chase ripped apart the sphincters of television morality, but man, The Sopranos is a statement on par with Eugene O'Neill's better work.  American Horror Story is not that.  And as far as being freaky,  it is maybe a little creepier than Twin Peaks, but only because it's unrelenting with the blades and burns and monster babies.


It's on Netflix!!  You know what to do!


Coming November 7th!  Finally, you'll have something to be grateful for when asked. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Hello. Yes. This is Gary Sheffield. Gary Sheffield speaking.


It's Jason!



It's me.


Right, right...

…you're my agent!

Cool down fire cat, I gotchyou.

Jase of Base.

I hear that.

What's hot?

I want to get right to the point, Gary.

I want a new nickname.

The Grilled Cheese thing isn't cutting it.

What's not cutting it mean? What's it not cut? You're cutting just fine. Don't you let those west coast srirachas get up into messing with your head!

You hear me?

Yeah, I hear--


I hear you.

You get a thing up in your head from these people and you will never get a woman to ride with another woman in the front seat of your car again.

You feel that?

I feel it.

I know you feel me, because Jason...




I gotchyou. Who gotchyou?

You do, Gary.

That's right Gary gotchyou.

Hey, another thing.

Would you like to buy a cordless headset for your home office?

You know you don't even have to ask.


This episode of We Tapped Gary Sheffield's Landline is brought to you by

Monday, September 8, 2014

Friday, August 1, 2014

Why it's good the Pirates didn't make a deadline deal

It’s been an interesting three years for Pirates fans, who’ve watched the team go from collapsed contenders two years ago to legit contenders last year to whatever the hell you think they are now.
For those who hung in there for two-plus decades, last year was incredibly cathartic—not only for the club’s authoritative smashing of the worst losing streak in sports history, but as a sign that the organization was headed in the right direction. A well-built though slightly shallow mix of homegrown players and veterans brought in on the cheap got the job done, and gave the fan base a reason to hope for, if not expect, ongoing success.
And there’s the rub, right in that six-lettered-four-letter word: expect. You’d hope that after one indisputably successful year with so much promise visible in the club’s foreseeable future, people wouldn’t get greedy. A fan base coming off such a long run of abject humiliation should have at least a little humility—a sense of appreciation for the club’s transformation from nothing into something; a recognition that the process of creating something from nothing takes patience, time, leadership and sound decision-making.
But as the Pirates stood pat at the deadline, local outrage festered. It’s one thing to hear that outrage from fans, who, if we’re being honest, can be form some of society’s most aggressively ignorant mobs. The outrage from the local media is what proved the most distressing.
In print, Ron Cook brought his A-game and newly-crowned Trib sports lead columnist Rob Rossi showed signs of brain activity before drivinghis argument off a cliff. On the radio, The Fan’s Joe Starkey turned into a short-sighted, pitchfork-wielding crazyperson. Even online, where the entirely sensible Dejan Kovacevic, who just left the Trib to start his own subscription-onlywebsite dedicated exclusively to his coverage of Pittsburgh sports, misfired badly.
Here’s how this played out: in the hours leading up to Thursday afternoon’s non-waiver trading deadline, the Pirates were reported to be in the mix for stud lefties Jon Lester and David Price. Earlier reports said they’d talked to the Phillies about acquiring A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo. Some reports said Seattle was interested in Starling Marte, though the potential return was unclear. All reports of the Pirates interested in acquiring established, Major League talent said the asking prices were outrageous.
Price went to Detroit in a three-team deal, the framework of which had been in place for weeks. Lester went to Oakland with A’s general manager Billy Beane, who’d already dealt away most of his organization’s top prospects, making it very clearly known that he had every intention to take advantage of a weak year in the AL, the Red Sox and Rays well out of contention and the Yankees teetering on the brink of relevance.
By all accounts, the Pirates were prepared to dip into their substantial quiver of high-value prospects to make a deal, and likely offered to do so on at least two occasions. And through Price went for surprisingly little, it took a three-team deal to get Tampa the bare minimum to where it felt comfortable parting with Price.
After letting go of the underperforming Garrett Jones and letting Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett walk in the offseason—both signed absurd contracts with the Phillies—the Pirates were already facing an uphill battle going into this season. Burnett effectively ate a ton of innings for the club the last two years. He was a staff workhorse and team leader, and the Pirates probably erred in not calling his bluff and tendering him a qualifying offer in the face of his threats to retire. Francisco Liriano was so good last year that it was almost impossible to imagine him replicating the production—and staying healthy—this year. And Jason Grilli, whose peripheral numbers might as well have stood on a soap box in London’s Speakers’ Corner and proclaimed the end to be near, came back and was worse than anyone could have imagined (author’s note: I believe I had this)
This left the Pirates with more than a lot of production to make up in order to keep pace with last year’s team, and they replaced none of it in the offseason. Crunch any of the numbers that really matter and there was simply no way the Pirates could possibly match their 94-win total from last year, barring huge impact from call-ups, a few savvy trades and some wild over-performance from every pitcher in their employ.
The FTC Pirates season preview, written and published in April, had this year’s Pirates clocking in at 84 wins—enough to continue the winningness, but likely not enough to warrant a playoff spot coming out of the NL Central. They lost too much and didn’t do enough to replace what they lost.
After digging themselves into an early hole this season—their 18-26 record on May 20 came with a -25 run differential—the team played its way back to respectability, and were one of baseball’s hottest in June and July. Some argue that this rebound shows the team’s true quality, and that it should have been rewarded with trade deadline acquisitions. But in baseball, you are, for the most part, what the numbers say you are—neither the offense nor the pitching were really as bad as they looked the first two months, and the team made up that difference with a hot two months.
As of the writing of this post, the Pirates have a run differential of zero. They’ve scored the exact same number of runs they've allowed, which means they’re ostensibly a .500 team. And that’s what they are.
But some breaks have fallen their way lately and they’re actually six games over that mark. Whether it was this, the positive expectations after last season or, as I fear the most, a sense of entitlement following last season, there’s a widespread feeling of “what the fuck?” after the Pirates didn't make any moves in advance of the non-waiver trading deadline.
“Shame on you if you expected the Pirates to make a major move Thursday before the non-waiver trade deadline. That’s just not their way,” wrote Cook, the PG’s resident crank.
But to get nothing at all? Sorry, but that’s just … beyond belief is what it is,” wrote Kovacevic under the headline “Nothing at all? Seriously?”**
On the radio side, 93.7 The Fan’s Joe Starkey, normally a model of sound and reasonable thought* with regard to his analysis, treated the Pirates’ failure to acquire neither Price nor Lester as borderline catastrophic, at one point declaring that the only player on the team who should be untouchable in trade talks was Gregory Polanco. Forget the former No. 1 pick, working his way back into the rotation. Forget the reigning MVP, having another dynamite season, who happens to be under team control through 2018.
These men are all forgetting two crucial facts with regard to the Pirates deadline inaction.
The first is that last year, the Pirates’ most meaningful acquisitions came in August, following the non-waiver trading deadline. Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau were both August acquisitions, and despite popular opinion of Morneau’s performance while a Pirate, he proved a substantial upgrade over Garrett Jones.
The second is that the Pirates are widely acknowledged as having one of baseball’s deeper farm systems, from pitching prospects like Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon and Nick Kingham to hitters like Josh Bell, Austin Meadows and Alen Hanson. These guys are all quite well-regarded talents.
If the Pirates had performed better in advance of the deadline—in effect, if they’d been a little luckier and maybe stolen a few more wins, or maybe just hadn’t dug themselves so deep a hole early on, an all-in approach might have been warranted. But that wasn’t the case. As such, the Pirates were right to stand pat on July 31. They knew going into this year that the team wasn’t as good as it was last year, but they also knew that what they have in the pipeline offers far more promise over a longer period of time than warrants giving up some of that for two months of Jon Lester or 14 months of David Price.
They’re not contenders, they know they’re not contenders and they’re not going to unload valuable assets or overpay for immediate solutions when they have the utmost confidence they’ll be in a far better position come 2015—a position from which they’ll be able to make a more substantial move in the name of more immediate success. 
The only person whose trade deadline outrage came close to understanding this was Rossi:
“Pittsburgh still needs something more from its Pirates. It needs a show of faith. It needs a statement. Landing Lester would have provided that faith. Paying for Price would have made a statement,” he wrote.
He’s not wildly off-base here. Getting one of those guys would have told the fans and the media that the team is serious for real. But to land Lester or Price and surrender high-value youngsters at a point when the team isn’t primed to make a serious run would be to try and change a light bulb while standing on the top part of the ladder which always comes clearly labeled, “THIS IS NOT A STEP.”
 The Pirates were correct to stand their ground on deadline day. They have more talent from top to bottom than they have in more than 20 years, they have stars and potential stars locked in for the long term, and there’s more help on the way. There will come a time when it will be right to sacrifice prospects in the name of acquiring pieces to make a serious run, but now is not that time.
After the current management team brought the Pirates out of obscurity and into the limelight last year, these same writers lauded the management, praised their formula and preached retrospectively about the virtues of patience. Now, they’d do well to remember that the July deadline is never the end, that the organization is in shape to succeed like it hasn’t been in more than 30 years and perhaps most importantly, that they were the same ones whom last year wrote that the Pirates management, if anything, deserved a longer leash and some much-due trust. The writers and fans alike would do well to adhere to those notions
No Lester? No Price? No right-handed bat? No bullpen help?
No matter. 

The Pirates won’t get to the mountaintop this year, but they’re by no means going away.

*I have nothing but respect for Joe Starkey. When I was just a lowly student writer covering sports for The Pitt News, he was one of two pros who went out of his way to talk to and, in a way, mentor the student writers. He did this because he's a genuinely good guy. We sling a lot of mud on this blog and I want to make sure it's clear that Joe's not the target of any of it. 
**The day Dejan's new website went online, I bought a year's subscription. There's nobody who's more consistently or thoughtfully on-point. I love Dejan's work ethic, his reporting, his writing and how much he "gets" the Internet. He's the best in the business.