Anti-Vaxxers, Stop! Just Stop!

If you live in the United States, then it's likely you've run across an anti-vaxxer or at least heard stories about them. Proclaiming themselves as saviors of the human race, anti-vaxxers were at one time harmless idiots that were so rare you need not worry about them. Problem is, this group has grown, and with it, the danger to society has grown as well.

Anti-Vaxx History

Since 1796 when Edward Jenner first tested the use of Cowpox as a protective measure against smallpox, we have been developing vaccines and in turn protecting the general population from a range of horrid diseases. In the short 200 year history of vaccinations, we've managed to completely eradicate smallpox, and almost completely eliminate polio, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, and other diseases. All of these diseases are preventable and for a very low cost. 

Unfortunately, we are now seeing the return of some diseases as young children and adults who were never vaccinated start to come in contact with these diseases at an increasing rate. We can trace this trend back to one person in particular, Andrew Wakefield. If you know the background of Andrew Wakefield, then you have looked upon someone who might as well be the next incarnation of the devil. 

Astronaut Scott Kelly vaccinates himself in orbit

Astronaut Scott Kelly vaccinates himself in orbit

What makes Andrew such a deplorable human being? It's the way he started the anti-vaxxers down their ill-fated path. Andrew authored a scientific paper in the journal "The Lancet" in 1998.

Wakefield and 12 other authors proclaimed that there was a tie between certain vaccines and autism. In the publication, the authors pointed the finger at the MMR vaccine, in particular, claiming that 8 of the 12 children in the study developed autistic behaviors within 2 weeks of the MMR vaccine being administered.

Wakefield also took to the press to demand the MMR vaccine be withdrawn and this act alone was a major catalyst to the current anti-vaxx crazies that roam the streets. Wakefield had not even published the paper when he took the story to the press. Wakefield claimed to be doing this for the interest of the public. He was hiding a secret about the study though... he made up the data! 

Andrew Wakefield had performed the study after he was hired by a lawyer. The lawyer was preparing a lawsuit against MMR vaccine producers and wanted a link between the vaccine and side effects in an effort to make their suit more powerful. This major conflict of interest alone should have been enough to call into question the findings of the study. Wakefield took things a step further though and changed the data in the study to fit what the desired outcome was.

In 2010, the journal retracted the study and Wakefield lost his license. Charges against Wakefield included the following:

  • He was paid for the results of the study to match lawyers desires
  • Ordering medical tests not indicated by patient history and without approval
  • Withheld how patients were recruited into the study
  • Paid for children's blood samples at his son's birthday party
  • Showed disregard for distress or pain of children in the study
  • Did not gain ethics approval for the study

7 years after Wakefield lost his license, we are still battling an anti-vaccine movement based completely on myth and a made up study.

The New Anti-Vaxxer

Now anti-vaxxers have expanded their excuses for deciding not to vaccinate their children and they are all just as flawed as the original study that sparked this craze.

One of the top excuses I've heard floated is that current vaccines have mercury in them and that causes autism. 

This flawed logic likely stems from the fact that mercury causes neurological disorders, but completely ignores the fact that there is no mercury in modern vaccines. What anti-vaxxers have glommed on to is that in the past, vaccines have used thimerosal to prevent to growth of bacteria and fungus within the vaccine itself. Mercury is one of a long line of atoms that makes up thimerosal. 

The chemical makeup for thimerosal is C9H9HgNaO2S, as you can see Mercury (Hg) is only one part of the makeup of this compound. Having mercury as part of a compound does not automatically give the compound the same health effects of the atoms that make up the compound. A great example is Chlorine, in gaseous form Chlorine is very toxic to breath in, but bind it with sodium and you create table salt. Salt is harmless in most applications and when eaten in small doses. 

Anti-vaxxers position on thimerosal gets even worse when you realize that the CDC had thimerosal removed from all vaccines in 1999 as an additional precaution in case it was harmful. So every vaccine administered since 1999 has contained no mercury at all. 

More information can be found on the CDC website here.  

Vaccine to Autism Rates

Locking down the rates of autism claimed by vaccine detractors is a difficult number to find since scientific articles and studies do not support this idea. However, even if it was true that vaccines caused autism, then it would still be worth administering vaccines. 

When accounting for all of the deadly or disabling diseases we vaccinate against, current autism rates would not justify us eliminating vaccines. Since the link isn't actually true, we should not give the idea any thought. 

Community Protection

Anti-vaxxers often focus on a single made up figure, autism rates. When this is your sole focus, you are going to miss the bigger picture. Vaccines are not just protecting the individual that it is administered to, there is such thing as herd immunity. 

Throughout the world there are people who are unable to receive vaccines. Such cases are often the result of individual allergies to either the vaccine, or the person could be immunocomprimised.

People that are unable to receive a vaccine must rely on this herd immunity concept. Protection for such people is completely reliant on as many people in society being vaccinated as possible. If society is immune, then the disease has little chance to be carried to a person unable to be vaccinated. Here in lies a large flaw in the anti-vaxxers position. By not taking a vaccine, you are not just putting yourself or kids at risk, but you can now act as a carrier to those unable to receive a vaccine. 

 Growth in Autism Numbers

If there is no link between autism and vaccines, where is the increased number of autism cases coming from?  

There really is a simple answer for this. Over the last few decades, autism has gained more publicity and better detection methods. Prior to being called autism, many cases likely were misdiagnosed or just written off under a colloquial term. As detection methods became more accurate, and as autism knowledge became more widespread, the more cases were diagnosed. This really is a case of a disease being better defined and easier to diagnose. 

Studies 

Knowledge is power. If you want to read the studies that back up what I've said in this article, here is a list of studies you can read, and please, for everyone's safety, get yourself and your kids vaccinated. 

Study Disproving a Link Between Vaccines and Psychological Disorders in the First Year of Life

Study Finds No Link Between MMR Vaccine and Autism

Webpage with Index of Studies on Vaccine and Negative Effects

Driving for Uber has Jaded Me

Uber is a powerhouse in the arena of ride sharing, and I took pleasure in deleting my app. After being rocked by scandal after scandal, Uber just seems to be on a downward slide, and they just can't seem to get their shit together.

In the last 2 months, 9 separate executive officers have left the company, and for good reason. The CEO seems to be hell bent on not only making himself look bad, as many of us saw the YouTube video of him going at it with an Uber Black driver but also making the entire company look terrible too. Beyond arguments, CEO Travis Kalanick seems to care more about killing competitors than making a profit.

Kalanick argues in the YouTube video that they needed to lower prices to be competitive, yet Uber has never made a single dollar in profit. In fact, Uber lost $2.8 billion last year alone, and that has been a trend for many years. Can a company truly be competitive if they don't make a single dollar? Maybe the better question is, Where do we draw the line for competition? Is it competitive to purposefully not turn a profit in an effort to kill competition?

One of the biggest problems in Kalanicks approach comes right down to the drivers. I've driven for Uber in a smaller market, my current home of Greenville, SC. Greenville is a small city of only 60,000 in Greenville proper. This leads the market to be over-saturated with drivers and little demand for the service.  When I drove for Uber, my average hourly earnings consistently hovered around $9 per hour. In comparison, taking a full-time grocery position starts you off in the $10-$11 range and goes up from there. Taking another job also reduces wear and tear on the car and may even provide benefits like health care. None of which Uber provides.

Kalanick gets even worse in my and many drivers opinions. Uber's main competitor, Lyft, provides a way to tip the driver right from the app, something Uber refuses to do. Uber's position has always been the same here, that you shouldn't need to tip and that is a reasonable position to take under one circumstance, that the company pays a living wage... which Uber does not. This is completely a case of Uber being belligerent, this would be a minor feature to add, but they refuse to do so for some unknown reason... well at least an unknown and valid reason.

Aside from the driver concerns, Uber also continues to expand at a breakneck pace. Much of their losses in the past have come from expanding to new cities much faster than their competition. These losses have come with a major consequence though, company employees. Many Uber employees joined the company with incentives of stock options once the company went public... but it's been 8 years now and the company has yet to launch its IPO. The massive losses Uber suffers every year have a lot to do with that, what investor wants to put money into a company that doesn't turn a profit?

As Uber continues to lumber down the road of money loss there appears to be even more skeletons in the closet. From the top down, the appears to be a culture of in fighting, corporate espionage, and down right sketch behavior. Paying employees to ride with Lyft drivers and talk them into leaving Lyft, to accusations of sexual abuse in the work place. Uber is losing the image war and Kalanick seems to be the CEO that just doesn't get it. The only question left is, how long will Kalanick last at Uber? It might just be time to kick him out on his ass.

I'm Back and I'm Pulling No Punches

Hello, everyone, it's been quite a while since I last wrote. Life interfered and I didn't have as much time as I used to. Enough of why I left, the importance is what my plan is from here on out.

This website has gone from a photography website to a news website about travel, all the time failing to be what it really needed to be... a place where I was myself. The travel website does give a unique spin on the many airline reviews out there seeing as I am a vegetarian and review airline vegetarian meals. Outside of this niche though, the website was just another in a long line of travel news website, reiterating what a million other websites have said.

It's time I dropped the "be like everyone else" act and was myself. I'm opinionated, headstrong, and stubborn. I've got something to say on a lot of things, and many times it's a perspective you hear very few places.

Let me break this down for you. I love to travel and that will always be a huge part of my website. At the same time, I'm a rocket scientist, who lives for science and hates pseudo-science bull shit. That means if you are an anti-vaxxer, I think you are the scum of the Earth and likely should be brought up on charges of child endangerment. It also means I agree with 98% of scientist on climate change, NASA didn't hoax anything, the Earth is not flat you morons, and I am skeptical about your new miracle healing thing.

Going forward this website will no long be exclusive to just travel, though that will be a big part of the stories here. I am going to cover everything from science, to politics, to the stock market. These are no longer going to be information only sorts of stories, it's time to be me on this website, and that may mean I will piss you off sometimes, and other times tell you some pretty fun and inspiring things. 

Travel reviews will still be a thing, and there are some that have yet to be written from my trip to South Africa and Dubai in October. Stories will not exclusively be me bitching, but some weeks it may seem like that. Just be aware that I have known for a while that what I was doing was just rehashing stories. It's just taken me a while to figure out that it's time I be myself, because being like every other news site is boring. Time to light the fire and maybe be an asshole from time to time.

Food Review: Virgin Atlantic A330 Atlanta to London

Aboard my Virgin Atlantic flight from Atlanta to London, we sat waiting for everyone to board. Flight attendants made their way around the cabin offering pre-departure drinks for everyone in the business class cabin. I decided to try the campgne that was available. The campagne was middle of the road, nothing spectacular, definately didn't finish drinking it prior to takeoff.

Once in the air, service started for dinner. On this particular flight, I had ordered the VGML meal meaning that it was vegan. I make this warning to vegans out there, while I am currently vegetarian, I was a vegan for year, so I know what to look for when being served food. Many airlines will provide the main course as vegan, but snacks and other parts of the meal may not be as you specified. Making my case for me, the first thing brought over to me was a small bowl of chips (or crisps being that it was a London based airline). The chips were sour cream flavored... definitely not vegan, so keep an eye on what they are serving you. Since I am vegetarian, I tried the chips and wasn't impressed by the flavor, kind of bland.

Next up was the bread basket brought around by the flight attendants. Passengers were able to choose which type of bread they wanted, I decided to try the parmesan diamond, which was pretty good, but it's pretty hard to screw up bread.

Once all the bread was passed out, the meal began with everyone's starter. Since my meal was vegan, my starter was different from everyone else's. My starter consisted of some orange slices, lettuce and a lemon vinaigrette. Really the starter seemed odd, like the catering company just didn't know what to do. Settling on slicing some oranges, they added a vinaigrette... for some reason. The lemon vinaigrette didn't really go well with the oranges, the orange flavor ran over the lemon flavor of the dressing. At no point did I really understand this dish, but it was everything you'd expect from orange slices, they tasted like oranges. 

Following the starter came the main dish. When this dish arrived, I was a little skeptical because it was basically some sliced veggies in a tomato sauce. The dish just looked like little thought had been put into it. Presentation wise, the dish was well plated and the sliced vegetables reminded me of a ratatouille. When I took a bite of this, I was sold. This dish ranks up there amoung the top dishes I've ever been served on a plane, let alone vegan meals served on a plane. Virgin really knocked it out of the park.

The main dish was well seasoned, flavorful and cooked perfectly. Mixed in was a starch like a potato or something similar that gave the meal some weight and made it stick with you longer. I really enjoyed this meal. 

Once it was time for dessert, things were a bit confusing. Having ordered the vegan meal, I expected to get fruit for dessert, seems to be the only thing airlines think is vegan and sweet. Much to my surprise, I was told that they do not carry dessert for the VGML meal option... this seems like quite the oversight for a business class ticket. If paying full price for the ticket, I'm not sure I would have been all too happy with them on this one. 

Since a VGML option wasn't available, I chose to try the cheesecake. While it wasn't in line with the meal I had ordered, the cheesecake was quite good. Most cheesecake that I get is very heavy, but somehow this one didn't feel like that, it was more light and fluffy. Also inside the cake was cherries baked right in. In my opinion, I wish more cheesecake was made like this.

After dessert, we settled down for the remaining flight time to London.

Just before landing, the flight attendants woke me to have breakfast. Before the first meal out of Atlanta, we had filled out a breakfast card, once again no VGML meal was made available for breakfast... not exactly sure what is up with Virgin Atlantic but if I order a special meal, I really want that meal not some of a meal and a complete lack of breakfast. Either way, I tried some muesli for the first time and it was awful, just not my thing I guess, it was bland and tasted roughly like cardboard. 

Overall I found what meals they did offer to be decent. I was a little upset that after requesting a VGML meal option, they only carrier part of meals and missed some entirely. Virgin could stand to improve in this arena, more of their meal options need to be on the level that the dinner main course was.

My Experience - Is Driving Uber Worth It?

I've just started driving for Uber this week and it has quickly answered a few questions for me. Everyone always seems to be trying to determine what Uber pays to someone driving for them full time and if it is worth it. There is lots of back and forth on this issue. My opinion is somewhere in the middle, but it is far from a glowing experience.



My initial idea on driving with Uber was to make a decent amount of money until I can find a full-time job. At the same time I have taken a job that on the surface pays far less than Uber pays at only $10/hr... so why take the $10/hr job?

In order to answer that question, we need to look at how things have gone in my first 3 days driving with Uber. 

Earnings

  • Friday - $53.85
  • Saturday - $76.67
  • Sunday - $51.08

Looking at how much I earned is not the whole story. We also need to look at how long I spent driving. 

  • Friday - 4 hours
  • Saturday - 8 hours
  • Sunday - 3.5 hours

As you can see, how much you make driving for Uber can vary wildly depending on the day. Friday and Sunday I averaged around $15/hr. Saturday I was only able to average about $11/hr. So overall this seems pretty good right? We haven't begun to factor in the costs of driving for Uber, and boy are they extensive.



Taxes

When you drive for Uber, they list you as an independent contractor. Doing things this way is better for Uber and much much worse for the drivers. Being an independent contractor means all of the taxes need to be covered by the driver themselves. I have already made a decent amount from my previous job this year meaning I expect my Federal tax rate to be 25%, add that to South Carolina's incredibly high income tax rate of 7% and we're already looking at 32% of my income allocated to taxes. 

Wait that's still not everything, I am now required to pay Self Employment tax to cover Social Security, Medicare, and everything else under that category at a blistering 15.3%. Those of you keeping track, yes this means that 47.3% of everything I make is taxed almost cutting my earnings in half.

Gas

Aside from taxes, gas purchases are going to massively eat into your earnings. If I worked 8 hours a day, I'd need to fill my car up around 4-5 times a week at $25 per fill-up. In other words, I'm spending $100-$125 per week on gasoline.

Tax Incentives

Many of you may be aware of the ability to write off the mileage on your car. The current Federal mileage rate is $0.54 per mile. This is quite a lot of money to be able to write off. Now this will likely negate many of the taxes you owe to the government, but the write off only applies to your taxes at the end of the year. Until the tax season closes you will need to carry that money in case your taxes don't work out exactly as you plan, meaning that money is unusable until you file taxes.

Conclusion

Uber is the only one making out well in this deal, and even they seem to be struggling to turn a profit these days. Drivers bear all of the burden with taxes, wear on the car, mileage, and gas purchases. If you add in that Uber suggests buying water and candy for riders too, it just becomes unreasonable at some point. 

This is not to mention that you must carry your own health insurance that could easily wipe out a week's worth of earnings.

Keep in mind that I am forced to drive with UberX which has the worst rates out there. I drove a full hour with a passenger yesterday and earned $35. Keep in mind that it was another full hour back to Greenville to get near where there were more passengers for me to start picking up. 

So, should you drive for Uber?

If you need to do this for extra money, it will work for that. If you are considering doing this full time, turn around and run the other way fast! The math is just not in your favor.