December 13th, 2012


[links] Link salad looks forward to another chemo session

The best trailer yet for The Hobbit

The Fungus in Your Cheese Is Having Weird Sex — Well, this certainly explains a lot.

Schrödinger's gardenia: Does biology need quantum mechanics?A review of the processes that might exploit quantum weirdness.

Ediacaran study shakes the tree of life — Ah, science.

Are genes our puppet masters, or just a single link in a complex chain?Jim Watson goes after the epigenetics fans.

PartiallyClips on the oddities of the medical pain scale — I've actually had a version of this conversation.

Health-themed greeting cards fill a supportive niche — Hah! (Via Lisa Costello.)

Google from the 1960s — This is way too much fun. It rewards time spent playing. (Via @gabrielle_h.)

The iPhone Gets an Answer to Google NowSiri gets some competition from an app that offers answers to search queries you haven’t even made yet. Interesting but spooky.

Google Maps back on iPhone after Apple software fiasco — Finally, an end to Apple's corporate dick-waving at the expense of millions of customers. No more Apple Maps for me.

Surprising Source of Tsunamis — Meteotsunamis. Huh. Obvious enough in its way, after the fact. (Via Daily Idioms, Annoated.)

Vast Alien River System Spotted on Saturn’s Moon Titan — Ooooh. (Via [info]corwynofamber.)

DNA testing frees man who lived on death row for 15 years — Ah, justice. [A]cademic studies […] suggest that 2% to 4% of death-row inmates are probably innocent. “If that was the rate of failure of airplanes,” he says, “would you fly?” (Via Slacktivist Fred Clark.)

Another Tragedy, Another Missed Opportunity To Talk About Gun Control — Charles Pierce with comments on the Oregon shootings. [C]rimes involving the easy availability of firearms are swiftly isolated as individual events, pried loose from any social and political contexts, and even separated from the context of other, similar crimes. It is never time to talk about them.

Carney shuts down WH press conference after being asked about Prop 8 case — Classy, Obama administration. Standing up for what is right is part of what won you the election. You might consider it as policy going forward. If you're going to be evasive on questions like this, you might as well join the black helicopter brigade on the other side of the aisle. All you're doing is pissing off your own constituency while feeding paranoid wingnut victimization fantasies.

Do corporations pray?[W]e are, however, living in a Golden Age of imagined religious persecution, in which the seasonal gestures of department stores are a grievous injury to the faithful, and the inability to make public policy consistent with religiously-based political views is deemed martyrdom. Yes, the erosion of Christian privilege in America from absolute supremacy to merely overwhelmingly dominant is definitely seen as persecution. (Via Slacktivist Fred Clark.)

Lie of the Year: the Romney campaign's ad on Jeeps made in China — It was the Jeep-to-China ads that really sealed my understanding of the cheap, cynical opportunism of Mitt Romney and confirmed his poor character. Not that there wasn't plenty of evidence prior to that.

The Importance of Foreign Policy KnowledgeDespite his “clear set of principles,” Romney’s lack of knowledge about foreign policy issues frequently led him to make poor choices and caused him to say foolish things that wrecked whatever credibility he might have had. Romney is a prime example that a “set of principles and a vision to go along with it” aren’t nearly enough.

?otD: What's your favorite color?

Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 8.0 hours (solid)
Body movement: 0.5 hours stationary bike ride
Weight: 219.4
Number of FEMA troops on my block enforcing international law and Kenyan Muslim socialism: 0
Currently reading: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks


[cancer] The latest questions for my oncologist

In case you're wondering what cancer patients and their doctors talk about. I see my oncologist every two weeks. This is Friday's crop of questions, some of them in the light of the fact that my forthcoming chemo is my last before the surgery break.

1) Can I have my teeth cleaned sometime in January right before we resume chemo, or should I wait until this summer after chemo is completed?

2) Do you think I should pursue the Illumina testing post-operatively? As I understand it, the testing we did recently was checking for those specific mutations listed. Illumina would be sequencing the whole genome of my normal cells, plus the whole genome of a couple cancer cells, so it's a much more thorough process. Do you believe this would be of clinical benefit?

3) My hands cramped shut last weekend. Painful, cold claws that I had difficulty opening up again. So far, it's a one-time event. Does this indicate potassium deficiency? Or is this just peripheral neuropathy weirdness?

4) I've had a constant side effect of low-level bloating and cramping in my gut which makes it difficult for me to sit up in a normal position for extended lengths of time. Basically, discomfort that eventually builds to low grade pain. As a result I spend the vast majority of my time horizontal or nearly so. I don't remember this from my previous chemo series. Is there any significance to this issue? Or just another one of the trials of life on chemo?

5) Given the apparent disappearance of my third tumor and the halting of the rather rapid growth of the other two, is it fair to say that this chemo series has been more successful than the prior two? Or is that question even meaningful? (My first chemo series was post-operative, so there was no tumor shrinkage to evaluate, but I metastasized again less than a year and a half later. My second chemo series was configured like my current one, and as I recall, the tumor stabilized but did not shrink significantly, and I again metastasized, multifocally, eight moths after the end of chemo.)

-- I realize these next few questions are really for [my surgical oncologist], but I'm curious as to your opinion.

6) Do you have any sense of when we'll have the surgery? My assumption is the second or third week in January, to give me 4+ weeks of spacing from chemo to be in good enough shape to tolerate it.

7) When do you want me to see [my surgical oncologist]? Or is that up to them?

8) Will we be doing more imaging in December or January? Is a PET scan justified? Also, the Johns Hopkins team had felt pretty strongly I should have an MRI pre-operatively. Is that last up to you or up to [my surgical oncologist]?

9) In terms of the surgical plan, will we be taking tissue where the small tumor has receded or vanished? I assume so, but I'm unclear on best practice here, and/or the clinical thinking.

Some of the things I have to worry about are banal to the point of inane, like teeth cleaning. Some are just weird, like my hands spontaneously folding into claws. And some are deeply serious, like surgical logistics. It's a wonder I ever get anything normal done.


[personal||culture] The costs of owning a car

I hold an Oregon drivers license. I own an automobile. I belong to the American Automobile Association. That makes me part of car culture in this country. In accepting the perceived benefits of owning a car, I am also taking a responsibility for the risks and social costs of widespread automobile use.

There are over 250,000,000 registered passenger vehicles in the United States.1 There are over 210,000,000 licensed drivers in the United States.2 We are almost all of us in his country part of car culture. Almost all of us take responsibility for the risks and social costs of widespread automobile use.

As it happens, for my personal lifestyle, though I am low-mileage driver by US standards, mostly due to having a job working at home and thus no daily commute (we're ignoring the effects of cancer on my driving for the sake of this discussion), I and my household are not in a position to go car-free. The location of Nuevo Rancho Lake is such that many of life's needed errands are impractical without an automobile. We do not live in a transit-dense area, and the time penalty for taking such mass transit as is available overwhelms our schedules.

For my own part, when [info]the_child is older, in the somewhat unlikely event that I have regained my health, I would like to move to a dense, mixed-urban neighborhood where my automobile dependency can be sharply reduced or eliminated completely. At this point in my life, that's largely wishful thinking. I continue to be reliant on automobile transportation both directly — to be driven to my copious medical appointments by friends or relatives, for example — and indirectly — the errands to the grocery store, post office and so forth that are run on my behalf, largely by Lisa Costello in her car.

This means I am benefiting from automobiles, even if I no longer operate them personally for reasons of my own health and everyone's safety. In benefiting from them, I accepting their costs. Like any aspect of life, car culture is both things, benefits and costs.

I accept that in the United States, we experience about 30,000 deaths per year (10.3876 per 100,000 population)3. (Oddly enough, this is very similar to the number of gun deaths per year.) That number is down about 25% over the last ten years, apparently mostly due to safety improvements in automobile design and construction. In opting to own and use a car, I am participating in a system which kills 30,000 of my fellow citizens every year. I own a piece of those deaths as surely as if I were driving the car that killed them. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous of me. The moral calculus here isn't "ooh, killing machines!", but rather a balance of the overall social benefit of nearly universal transportation with the carrying costs of its risks and inefficiencies. Every one of those 30,000 dead set out with some purpose, most of them by car, that they judged to be worth the risk to their life. Just I like judge ever car trip I make to be worth the risk to my life. That 0.01% risk of my death on that particular trip is the cost of doing business.

I also accept that in the United States, the average passenger vehicle emits 108 pounds of hydrocarbons, 854 pounds of carbon monoxide, 55.8 pounds of oxides on nitrogen, 16,034 pounds of carbon dioxide, and 813 gallons of gasoline evaporates.4 (I'm not sure about that last number, but I'm not in a position right now to research it further. The rest meet a test-of-reasonableness for me, but if someone has better data, let me know.) Again, by participating in car culture, I own a piece of that pollution as surely as if I were dumping industrial chemicals into the air by hand for the sheer joy of seeing the birds fall out of the sky. Again, a balance of social benefits and net risk. One that is highly arguable, of course, but every day 200,000,000 million of us get in our cars and pump out those tailpipe emissions. This is of course changing with the increasing emphasis on hybrids and more efficient conventional engines, as well as be affected by other choices such as mass transit or bicycle use. But that massive scale of pollution is the cost of doing business.

As I said, I belong to AAA. That's an organization which among other things lobbies for motorists' concerns and increased government support for car culture. I am responsible for the things they promote and achieve, whether or not I personally agree with choices to, say, fund a new highway and not build a light rail system somewhere with that same money. I own that, it's part of car culture.

I'm not even talking about many other costs of the automobile, from the way Federal and State budgets are skewed toward road infrastructure to the impact of fossil fuel extraction and distribution to the foreign wars we have fought over access to oil to the misplaced research and development dollars that could have improved our way out all of this decades ago if it were not for car culture. Those are all part of the cost of doing business.

The point I'm making is that in choosing to own and use an automobile, in choosing to participate in car culture, all of these things belong to me. The deaths, the pollution, the foreign wars, the misplaced spending. And I accept them as part of the cost of doing business, given the benefits I perceive the automobile giving me. I would be a moral coward not to do so. I would be in denial. If I didn't take that responsibility, I'd be accepting the emotional and personal rewards of automobile ownership without acknowledging any of the costs.

How this applies to handgun licensing, gun ownership and NRA membership is best left as an exercise for the reader. I will simply say that we are all responsible for the consequences of our beliefs. We live in a society that will barely acknowledge the cost of widespread private automobile ownership, while pretending that widespread private gun ownership is some holy right without consequence at all.

Bullshit. My belief that I should own a car places responsibility on me for death, pollution and numerous other social costs. Your belief that you should own a gun is no more free of such costs.