Monday, December 3, 2007

Sherwin Nuland on ECT

Nuland is the author of my favorite medical history text and a bunch of other more famous books I haven't read, a former Yale surgeon, and just an all-around brilliant kinda guy.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Link Roundup: Comeback Edition

Alpha: JJ Abrams is going all kinda crazy on the new Star Trek movie. Brilliant casting movies include: Zachary Quinto (Sylar, from Heroes) as an iteration of Spock, Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead!) as Scotty, and John Cho (Harold, not Kumar) as Sulu. Could a Star Trek movie be a date movie? And can a Korean guy really play a Japanese guy in the 23rd century?

Beta: Wii Goodness: Wii Fit will be released in the states in 2008, giving West Virginia law makers something other than DDR to put in schools. I welcome my Nintendo weight-loss overlords, having just played some Wii Sports for the first time last night.

Gamma: Damn you, Jared! Cornell researchers find that folks underestimate the number of calories in a meal from Subway compared to McDonald's, because Subway is "healthier."

"We found that when people go to restaurants claiming to be healthy, such as Subway, they choose additional side items containing up to 131 percent more calories than when they go to restaurants like McDonald's that don't make this claim," said Brian Wansink, Cornell's John S. Dyson professor of marketing and applied economics and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, in a news release.

"In estimating a 1,000 calorie meal, I've found that people on average underestimate by 159 calories if the meal was bought at Subway than at McDonald's," said Wansink.

That extra 159 calories could lead to an almost five-pound weight gain over a year for people eating at Subway twice a week compared to choosing a comparable meal at McDonald's with the same frequency, he said.


Delta: File under "study that has lots of data but no useful or surprising information." The Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Statistics issued a report stating that "personal care," "food preparation and serving," "community and social services," and "health care" workers have the highest rates of depression (and women are about twice as depressed in most of those fields as men). "Installation, maintenance and repair" and "engineering, architecture, and surveyors" have the lowest rates of depression. Self-selection much?

Epsilon: File under "stuff people didn't pay nearly as much attention to as they should have." A Pittsburgh physician (NOT associated with WPIC) was finally charged in August with involuntary manslaughter after a boy died of cardiac arresting while receiving chelation therapy for autism. It looks like the kid died from a possible mix-up:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the boy was given a synthetic amino acid to rid his body of heavy metals, instead of a similar chemical with a calcium additive. Both are odorless, colorless liquids and may have been confused, the CDC found.
When you make a mistake giving real medical care, it's a tragedy, but bad things do happen to good people. When you kill someone with fake medical care that preys upon the hopes and vulnerability of loving parents, you deserve criminal charges, and a firm kick in the nuts.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Blogging Vacation

So, as I went back to full-time med school after finishing my master's, and finished up my residency application, I listed this blog as one of my "hobbies." Apparently something about claiming "ownership" freaked me out, or I was just busy, and I entirely got out of the habit of blogging. I kept bookmarking links and sticking them in a "bloggables" folder on my Firefox toolbar (and even opened a "bloggables2" folder, since the first one was so full), but I could never convince myself to actually sit down for the handful of minutes it might take to throw together something. The longer I took off, the more obligated I felt that my posts had to be really good, and few bloggers with real lives have time to make every post really good.

So, I tossed and turned, and almost decided to throw Sparkgrass to the wolves. It's hardly a community anymore, as Zuck, Pepper, and Geoff are swamped interns, and Kyle has finished up his Oxford thesis, and, while his personal blog is wonderful, he's just not as interested in the sorts of things that fit here. So, it's just me. And applying for residencies has brought, front and center, the idea that some day pretty soon, folks are going to be calling me doctor. That nauseates me, in an appropriate way. As a med student, your goal is to learn, and make the lives of the people in front of you feel better as they navigate the system. You learn how to be a decent colleague, and learn a very special kind of responsibility. At least, you're supposed to learn a special kind of responsibility, and I think I am doing so, but some of your colleagues make you wonder if they ever did. As a person that someone calls doctor, you're somebody who makes binding decisions for somebody's daily health. If someone feels like they're going to throw up, or sedated, or agitated, that might be because of the meds I proposed as their best bet. If you give a shit about the lives of the folks in front of you (and I certainly do), that's a huge deal.

I'll have patients googling me someday soon, and they'll find this site. That's weird.

I've missed a lot of world-changing events in my vacation from blogging; S-CHIP, Larry Craig, and a new Radiohead album all come immediately to mind. I'm not sure I had anything intelligent to say about any of these things that Ezra Klein or Matt Yglesias didn't say before I even heard the stories.

So, Sparkgrass is here to stay. But I have to acknowledge its limitations, and my limitations. I'm probably going to find a new, more anonymous blogging home sometime soon (a few offers on the table) where I'll get much more exposure than a personal, blogger-run site can offer. But I have to wait for S-CHIP to blow over. There are way too many people who either a) know more about health policy than I do, or b) simply THINK they know more about health policy than I do, but blather on and on and on, for me to hop in the debate there.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

To offset the cute puppy

Lunetta P, Ohberg A, Sajantila A. Suicide by intracerebellar ballpoint pen. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2002 Dec;23(4):334-7.

Picture stolen from and explanation at Retrospectacle, one of the SEED Science Blogs written by UofM cochlear implant ninja Shelly Batts.

Not mine, but I'd take it

Cute Overload. Seriously.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The War on VBACs

For those who haven't stayed up all night checking to see if mom's ready to push, a VBAC is a Vaginal Birth After a C-section. During a Caesarian, besides cutting through mommy's belly, mommy's uterus gets cut as well. When a woman has another child, the worry is that since the uterus has already been cut before, the spot of healing isn't as structurally sound as the original uterine wall, thus the pressure placed on the uterine wall during subsequent pregnancies would then result in uterine rupture, and the need for emergent surgery. Emergent surgeries carry a multitude of greater risks than elective procedures.

But then some studies cited in this NPR story mention that the actual rate of uterine rupture in VBACs isn't that large, but when a uterine rupture DOES occur during a VBAC, outcomes are comparably terrible. This lead ACOG to recommend that adequate surgical faculty be available when a woman was attempting a VBAC. The problem arises when smaller hospitals simply don't have the resources to ensure those adequate surgical backups are at hand, and hospitals then ban VBACs because they simply can't afford to keep a full back up team on call.

Which creates the interesting public health versus personal autonomy dilemma we've all come to know and love. Women absolutely have a right to attempt a VBAC (and yes, "attempt" is the correct terminology) with a fairly low threshold for proceeding to a repeat caesarian should complications arise. And hospitals have a right to not offer services they simply can't afford to offer when medically acceptable alternatives exist. "Medically acceptable" and "personally acceptable" are, of course, not always in agreement.

Where I've trained, the VBAC was always an option, mostly because the hospital is equipped with the staff to handle any complication that could arise because patient volume and the high-risk patient population justify their use. On a population level, the risk is astronomical. On a personal level, the risk is miniscule.

Of course, the naturalist spin is that obstetricians are evil bastards who want to cut so they can go home and get some sleep so they'll have time to wake up early enough to spend their hefty salaries. Actually, obstetricians, like other physicians, don't like the idea of folks dying during an emergency from a partially preventable incident.

The woman in the NPR story gives the most revealing quote, however. She is rightfully upset that she is being forced to have a VBAC. When presented with the rationale for why this is so, she replies:

"That's what they hospital is there for, to handle emergencies. And so, in that respect, the policy never made sense to me."
No, emergency rooms are there to handle emergencies, as long as by "handle," you mean do the best that anyone can to stabilize an unstable situation, recognizing that some unstable situations simply cannot be stabilized, and should be avoided if possible.

Hospitals exist to provide inpatient medical care following complicated medical algorithms in which physicians and patients take action to minimize the risks associated with illness and treatment. If a particular hospital can't handle a particular risk, it shouldn't try to do so. It should refer to a tertiary care center, and it should be blatantly honest with its patients about local limitations.

We don't send burn victims or trauma victims to any old hospital and expect that hospital to be staffed to handle those emergencies. We have regional burn centers and a tiered-trauma centers so that patients can receive quality care, and our society can afford to provide that quality care.

A woman has every right to demand an attempt at a vaginal delivery after a caesarian section for a prior pregnancy. Heck, I imagine if I were a woman on my second pregnancy after having a C-section the first time, I would almost certainly demand a VBAC. However, no hospital can be expected to offer a service it simply can't afford to offer. If I want the VBAC, I have to go find a facility that does offer that service, since I'm probably unwilling to spend the extra zillion dollars required to keep sufficient surgical staff available during my delivery. And my current providers have an obligation to help me find that facility.

For the most part, Starbucks has an obligation to give you precisely what you want, because coffee isn't dangerous, and they can charge you whatever that coffee is worth to them.

For the most part, your medical provider has an obligation to give you precisely what you want, as long as what you want is reasonably safe, economically viable, and consistent with what can comfortably be called standard of care. For example, elective abortions and emergency contraception meet each of those criteria, and thus each woman has a right to receive them. In some contexts, a VBAC doesn't meet those criteria (according to ACOG... that's certainly up for further debate). Thus, the provider's obligation is limited to directing the patient to a context in which the patient's preferences do meet those criteria.

Update: The Onion offers the proper supplement to this story:
Woman Overjoyed By Giant Uterine Parasite

The Onion

Woman Overjoyed By Giant Uterine Parasite

NEW BRIGHTON, MN— "I'm so happy!" Crowley said of the golf ball–sized, nutrient-sapping organism that will eventually require hospitalization in order to be removed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Health Policy: SCHIP in danger

Recently, congress passed an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to allow more children to enroll. Yay, for the kids. The Bush Administration threatened a veto claiming fears of socialized medicine. But going beyond this, the Bush Administration has issued a set of "rules" that would prevent any state from increasing their enrollment unless a slew of requirements are met:

Under the requirements, children must be without insurance for a year before they can be enrolled, and families of children in the program must pay fees for care similar to those paid by families with private insurance. In addition, the state must show that it has enrolled at least 95 percent of children below 200 percent of poverty and that the number of children insured through private companies has not dropped more than 2 percentage points over five years. The latter requirement is supposed to ensure that employers aren't dropping family coverage.
This is outrageous on a number of points. Firstly, it requires children to be without health insurance for a year in order to qualify. A lot can happen in a year (vaccinations, checkups, broken bones). Why would this Administration claim that the best way to insure children is to require them to be uninsured. Additionally, the 95% requirement is ridiculous, since most states simply can't achieve that level of enrollment. And finally, the whole point of these rules is to subvert a law passed by the legislative branch. The constitutional role of the executive is to enforce the law, not subvert it. If Bush wants to threaten a veto, then he's just a jerk who doesn't care about children, but when he continues to trample on the federal constitution then he's a criminal.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rilo Kiley does 1973?

Under the Blacklight looked like a possible bright spot in a really boring music summer (I kinda grooved the new DadRock version of Wilco, and the new Rufus sounded very promising and tightly written, even if I can never make myself care enough to listen to more than three tracks. It's like, dude, I get it. You're really really gay.).

The reviews I can find online fall into two categories: a) Rilo Kiley without crunch guitar sucks, and b) hahaha omg watch the indie kidz squirm lol stfu!!1!

I can understand how pop critics would mess their pants anytime an indie band sells out whatever sound put them on the map. If you like pop music, this album is probably a really great pop album. But if you've bought a Rilo Kiley album before, it's probably because pop music bores you to tears. Call us pretentious, and we'll call you just plain bland.

I'd say there's a 35% chance this album will grow on me. But on first listen, this thing is 90% Sucks Ass. Even tracks I want to like figure out a way to push me away.

Jenny Lewis is Bob Dylan with good fashion sense. And even Bob Dylan shat out some incredibly terrible albums in the spirit of "experimentation." Rilo Kiley will probably sell more albums than ever before, but that's only because you can't take back an opened CD.

Update: EW's review is fair, if a bit forgiving. I just have to deal with the fact that this might be a good album, but a terrible Rilo Kiley album.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hometown Pride Update

Welcome to 1997, cultural center of Northeastern Kentucky!

First Ashland Starbucks opening Monday

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Afternoon Vocabulary Expansion

I've recently run across two words that have instantly found a home in my "that's just a cool word" mental bin. So I must share.

First, steampunk.

Second, and much better for a general audience, crank bug. (4th paragraph)

To be clear, I claim the latter for the totally awesome indie grass band I will someday assemble.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hometown Pride! The Duct Tape Bandit Strikes

You OWE IT TO YOURSELF to go watch the video. By the way, the hospital in the 15-second commercial prior the clip is the one in which I was born. And I graduated high school with the liquor store employee.

So apparently this was on the Today Show this morning. I saw it on Fark as well, so it must be a big deal, right? And Yahoo! news. Problem was, I heard it the night before from my mother, since this occurred about two miles away from my parent's house.

Without further ado, the Duct Tape Bandit!
This guy is obviously in need of a good forensic psychiatrist.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Restore the Draft? What a Bad Idea

Steve Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, hits one out of the park:

If the problem is that not enough young people are volunteering to fight in Iraq, there are two reasonable solutions: 1) take the troops out of Iraq; or 2) compensate soldiers well enough that they are willing to enlist.

The idea that a draft presents a reasonable solution is completely backwards. First, it puts the “wrong” people in the military — people who are either uninterested in a military life, not well equipped for one, or who put a very high value on doing something else. From an economic perspective, those are all decent reasons for not wanting to be in the military. (I understand that there are other perspectives — for example, a sense of debt or duty to one’s country — but if a person feels that way, it will be factored into his or her interest in military life.)

One thing markets are good at is allocating people to tasks. They accomplish this through wages. As such, we should pay U.S. soldiers a fair wage to compensate them for the risks they take! A draft is essentially a large, very concentrated tax on those who are drafted. Economic theory tells us that is an extremely inefficient way to accomplish our goal.

Critics might argue that sending less economically-advantaged kids to die in Iraq is inherently unfair. While I wouldn’t disagree that it’s unfair that some people are born rich and others poor, given that income disparity exists in this country, you’d have to possess a low opinion of the decision-making ability of military enlistees to say that a draft makes more sense than a volunteer army. Given the options they face, the men and women joining the military are choosing that option over the others available to them. A draft may make sense as an attempt to reduce inequality; but in a world filled with inequality, letting people choose their own paths is better than dictating one for them.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What a Difference a Decade Makes



In this video, Dick Cheney explains (in 1994) why the invasion of Baghdad just doesn't make sense...

h/t: Gladly Suffering Fools

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The More You Know, Nasonex Spanish Bee edition

So I tried to earn my "not worst husband ever" stripes by making Courtney breakfast this morning before she drudges off to work. While the Food network (since my cooking was obviously not enough to hold our attention), this uber-strange ad pops on the screen:

Courtney: Wtf? Why is the bee Hispanic? It sounded like Antonio Banderas or something.

Garrett: (grumpily) He's not Hispanic, I think the bee is Spanish.

Courtney: (knowingly) That's where you are wrong, pitiful derelict intellect!

And she's right, on so many accounts. First: (thank you, Dictionary.com)

Usage Note: Though often used interchangeably in American English, Hispanic and Latino are not identical terms, and in certain contexts the choice between them can be significant. Hispanic, from the Latin word for "Spain," has the broader reference, potentially encompassing all Spanish-speaking peoples in both hemispheres and emphasizing the common denominator of language among communities that sometimes have little else in common. Latino—which in Spanish means "Latin" but which as an English word is probably a shortening of the Spanish word latinoamericano—refers more exclusively to persons or communities of Latin American origin. Of the two, only Hispanic can be used in referring to Spain and its history and culture; a native of Spain residing in the United States is a Hispanic, not a Latino, and one cannot substitute Latino in the phrase the Hispanic influence on native Mexican cultures without garbling the meaning. In practice, however, this distinction is of little significance when referring to residents of the United States, most of whom are of Latin American origin and can theoretically be called by either word. · A more important distinction concerns the sociopolitical rift that has opened between Latino and Hispanic in American usage. For a certain segment of the Spanish-speaking population, Latino is a term of ethnic pride and Hispanic a label that borders on the offensive. According to this view, Hispanic lacks the authenticity and cultural resonance of Latino, with its Spanish sound and its ability to show the feminine form Latina when used of women. Furthermore, Hispanic—the term used by the U.S. Census Bureau and other government agencies—is said to bear the stamp of an Anglo establishment far removed from the concerns of the Spanish-speaking community. While these views are strongly held by some, they are by no means universal, and the division in usage seems as related to geography as it is to politics, with Latino widely preferred in California and Hispanic the more usual term in Florida and Texas. Even in these regions, however, usage is often mixed, and it is not uncommon to find both terms used by the same writer or speaker. See Usage Note at Chicano.
To add insult to injury, the bee really was Antonio Banderas!

So there you go. Don't a) question your wife, b) muddle the distinction between Hispanic and Latino, which the standard OMB demographic form seems to do, and c) mistake Antonio Banderas for a common Hispanic bee voice.

Which doesn't answer the greatest existential crisis evoked by the commercial. Why the hell is Antonio Banderas the voice of the Nasonex Bee? Only celebrity willing to humiliate himself as a bee besides Jerry Seinfeld? A well-meaning (but totally failing) attempt to be more inclusive, the way that every picture in every textbook or academic brochure that has three people must include two women and two African American, Hispanic, and/or Asian folk, despite the fact that the random probability of those three people actually hanging out is like 1 in 3 trillion? Or does Antonio Banderas only voice Puss-n-Boots after spiking some Nasonex?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Quickie Posts expand! the real world economics of cheating at video games, plus Superbad fun

Hopefully this post will evolve. I think it might just be best to start posting crap as I find what I want to post, and then commentate later if I ever get a chance. I have high faith in my taste in postable articles.

Remember when cheating at video games was fun? Ah, the sentimentality of the Contra code. The most interesting additional piece of information here relates to Asian WoW players who apparently spend lots of time doing nothing but mining gold, and then selling that gold (like really selling, as in legal currency, not fake WoW money) to lazy Americans who want to, well, act like globalizing Americans, and outsource their own video game playing efforts. Libertarian economists may find this as clever as they find ticket scalping. But apparently there are vigilante WoW players who just go around killing these gold-whores to preserve the integrity of the online community. How much integrity an online community can really have is up to you.

And more Seth Rogen! An EW Superbad Roundtable discussion. Too many notable quotes, so I'll just pull my favorite:

MICHAEL CERA: Same thing with Arrested Development. One of the writers, Jim Vallely, said if we got picked up on Showtime, the first shot he would want of season 4 of Arrested Development would be a shot of Will Arnett having a sex with a girl from behind. Just to kick it off.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Sounds evil, until you keep reading...

So there's this headline:

Johnson & Johnson Sues Red Cross Over Symbol
Sounds evil, right? I salivate at the opportunity to rip J&J for corporate greed and evil, picking on a little non-profit like that. But, then there's the rest of the article:

The two had shared the symbol amicably for more than 100 years — Johnson & Johnson on its commercial products and the American Red Cross as a symbol of its relief efforts on foreign battlefields and in disasters like floods and tornadoes.

From time to time, the American Red Cross sold products bearing the symbol as fund-raising efforts. Jeffrey J. Leebaw, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, said the company had no objection to that.

But in 2004, the American Red Cross began licensing the symbol to commercial partners selling products at retail establishments. According to the lawsuit, those products include humidifiers, medical examination gloves, nail clippers, combs and toothbrushes.
Sorry, J&J. And more:
Mr. Crisan said it was not clear how far the American Red Cross wanted to go in licensing the symbol for commercial purposes, noting that the red cross was a trademark of Johnson & Johnson before the American Red Cross was officially chartered. Mr. Crisan said that some of the items being sold under licensing agreements by the American Red Cross seemed to compete directly with products sold by J.& J.
What planet does the Red Cross live on that it thinks this is a legitimate practice? And Mark Emerson, president of the ARC says:
“The Red Cross products that J.& J. wants to take away from consumers and have destroyed are those that help Americans get prepared for life’s emergencies,” Mr. Everson said. “I hope that the courts and Congress will not allow Johnson & Johnson to bully the American Red Cross.”
Yes, Mr. Emerson. Nobody else makes disaster kits except for the companies to which you license J&J's commercial logo. Americans are gonna die because they can't buy products with your license. Right.

Seth Rogen + Simon Pegg = Sparkgrass Post

h/t to the Pot. Feel free to mock my mancrushes, but I guess it's okay if my wife is directing me to the links.

Actor Seth Rogen is in awe of British funnyman Simon Pegg - because he can't believe how good his movie Shaun Of The Dead is. The Knocked Up comedian had a similar movie idea to Pegg's 2004 zombie comedy, but was pleasantly surprised when he found out he had been beaten to the big screen by the Hot Fuzz star. He says, "When I first saw Shaun Of The Dead, I thought, 'F**k! F**k those guys!' I'd been thinking of writing a zombie movie about two dudes, and then that came along. I couldn't believe it! Not only are these guys quicker, they're better than me, too!"
I wish Hot Fuzz would come off the LONG WAIT list on my Netflix queue.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Ain't got no sweat tea"

Fellow Southern expatriate Jeff Klineman's celebration of true Southern Sweet Tea deserves your anthropological attention. I've always gravely lamented my own lack of Sweet Tea experience, and I'm actually working on developing a taste for iced tea. The problem, of course, isn't with the beverage, but my unwillingness to knowingly put that much sugar in a glass and drink it. Thank you, Splenda, for letting me re-explore my heritage without further increasing my chance of diabetes. Courtney assures me that it's my grandmother's fault, since her grandmother always had a pitcher of the prototypical Pitcher of Sugar Flavored with a Pinch of Tea ready in the refrigerator. I was too busy drinking chocolate milk and my grandfather's special recipe root beer floats, I guess.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut on Barry Bonds

Kurt understood the significance of the asterisk after whatever number of home runs Bonds steals away from the forces of good:
Picture stolen from this website, a collection of author self-portraits. Copyright somebody who's not me.

Friday, August 3, 2007


Courtney and I turned off our DVR-ed Jeopardy episode last night, only to see this ridiculously painful crash on the X-games. 720 into a 540 turns into a 720 into SPLAT! I thought the dude was dead, since I don't think I could personally survive a fall down a flight of stair, but you can't kill people stupid enough to ride skateboards 50 feet into the air. So it's worth the watch, if only to hear the stoner announcer's reaction: "Ah, man, that was... that was the heaviest slam we've ever seen... Oh, my God. Wow, I can't believe he nailed that 720."

I don't shill for CuteOverload nearly enough.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

More Harry answers

Fomy: What did you feel when you finally wrote the kiss, awaited so much by the fans, of Ron and Hermione

J.K. Rowling: I loved writing it, and I loved the fact that Hermione took the initiative! Ron had finally got SPEW and earned himself a snog!
And lots more. h/t to Yale physics ninja, Jack Challis.

Is there something the matter with me

since I'm more comfortable with John Roberts now that he carries a diagnosis of epilepsy? Am I becoming a psychiatrist because I'm somehow naturally more comfortable with folks who have Tegretol or Lamictal in their blood stream?

Stranger things have happened.

Fables of the Reconstruction of the...

All-white church may hire black pastor

ASHLAND — First Baptist Church in Ashland may soon lay claim to a first: The all-white church is on track to hire a black minister full time.
The Good: My hometown has just modernized itself out of the 19th century!

The Bad: The newspaper has to run an article with such a headline. Why would the race of the pastoral candidate be worth more than a passing mention if the expectation wasn't that such outdated racism still would figure prominently in the church's decision making.
Towler said race wasn’t an issue in the church’s relationship with Moore, either in a positive or a negative way.

“It wasn’t an issue at all,” he said. “Although we don’t have black members now, we have had black members in the past. ...I can honestly tell you (race) was never an issue in any form or fashion. We think Harold is filled with the spirit and preaches the Bible and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Note to all: the church representative just used the "I'm not racist, I have black friends" argument.

The Ugly: The article ends on an uncomfortable Uncle Tom note:
“We’re just lifting up Jesus,” he said. “We’re not looking for current events, we’re just spreading the gospel.”
Be clear, I'm not criticizing Moore's statement or sentiment. Moore is saying a noble thing, that the Gospel should be studied apolitically. I'm criticizing the article's positioning and use of the quote, as if to say, "Don't worry, Mas'r! Uncle Tom be good, and won't go stirrin' up no troubles for da white folk." You can't end an article whose theme is institutional racism with a statement of submission without making folks like me shake our heads at how far race relations still have to go in the South.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Religious doctors not more likely to care for poor

That's no surprise, and not even the reason why I would draw attention to it. Here's the real reason this study is significant:

He and colleagues at Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut mailed surveys to 1,820 practicing doctors. Of those, 63 percent responded.
What is it about a study on religiosity that would inspire a 63% response rate? Physician survey studies typically consider themselves sterling successes if they achieve anything above a 20% response rate.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sparky Harry Potter theories

31 hours until the Deathly Hallows are unleashed upon the Eastern time zone, so here's my last chance to divulge my newest theories before all such theories are useless. I haven't heard anything like this from anybody else, so if I'm right, I want mass love. If I'm wrong, well, I still want mass love, but ya know.

Why does Dumbledore trust Snape?

What experience do Dumbledore and Snape share that no others do? That's right, kids. Only they heard Trelawney's prophesy. Nobody else. Not Harry, not He-Who-Has-No-Nose-On-Screen, and not even Trelawney herself. So how do we know the contents of the prophesy? Dumbledore tells Harry what it said in book five. In book six he tells Harry that the only reason the prophecy applies to reality is because Voldy is obsessed with its contents. Voldy marked Harry by trying to kill him. If Snape never told Voldy its contents (or partial contents, as I propose), said prophecy would be just another blob in the bottom of a tea cup.

So, if Snape and Dumbledore are the only two to ever actually hear the prophecy, if the prophecy was broken in the final battle of OoTP, then who's to say that Dumbledore and Snape heard a version of the prophecy decidedly different than the one presented to Harry? Or, more complete than the one heard by Harry, at least.

When Malfoy attempts to fulfill Voldy's commands, he fails, and Dumbledore offers the Malfoys protection. Did Dumbledore make a similar offer to Snape, allowing Snape to maintain his cover with Voldemort while gaining a valuable mole into the Death Eater camp? Harry tries to explain to the others after Dumbledore's death in H-BP that Dumbly trusted Snape because Snape was sorry that James and Lily were the ones killed after he revealed the prophecy to Voldemort. Could it be that this is a regret that Dumbledore's plan to disseminate false information resulted in collateral deaths? Dumbledore and Snape would have shared this particular regret. So, Did Dumbledore kill James and Lily, in much the same way that Kreacher's self-serving deceptions resulted in Sirius' death? Odd justice, but the sort of twist Rowling does not seem incapable of.

For Vonnegut fans, Snape is the ultimate Howard W. Campbell, Jr. You either get the reference, or you don't. If you don't, Mother Night is a great place to start.

Is Dumbledore dead?

Why we're not obsessing about Dumbledore's relationship to his phoenix, Fawkes, I can't understand. Someone who shares an office with a loyal phoenix isn't gone for good. He's not even out of control. Much of the series has focused on Voldemort's attempts at immortality, while Dumbledore has smiled knowingly that 'love' his so much a greater power than Voldy's dark magic. Maybe 'love' isn't just 'love.' Maybe 'love' connects Dumbledore to Fawkes and to the magic of immortality that doesn't require murder and splitting your soul into destroyable objects. Book five contained two armies: the Order of the Phoenix, and Dumbledore's Army. But it wasn't the Order of Fawkes, it was the Order of Dumbledore, obviously. Dumbledore has achieved immortality, but a phoenix has to die ever so often in order to renew itself.

Snape didn't kill Dumbledore. Snape facilitated the rebirth of a phoenix. Think more Obi-Wan Kenobi than Gandalf, but a rebirth nonetheless. Snape's murder of Dumbledore seems intimately linked to some sort of over-arching plan developed between Snape and Dumbledore right about the same time that Harry's parents were killed. Conquering Voldemort may just require a 17-year plan, and a plan that depends so much on the willing participation of an unwitting kid. No wonder Dumbledore puts so much emphasis on supposed free will.

That's J.K. Rowling's form of destiny. Rowling is a pitcher that sticks a single finger into the air to signify to the batter that a fastball is coming, and you better hit it if you dare. If you don't, you'll strike out. You might need a little bit of luck, and the pitch may come in high and tight, but the swing is still yours to take. And that's why Dumbledore's Army will be lining up outside bookstores Friday night.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Turn Yourself Into a Simpsons Character

Go to simpsonizeme.com, upload a photo of yourself and the application analyzes your face, turning you into an honorary Springfield resident.
Can't wait to get home and try this thing out.

Update: hehehe...

My Quality Adjusted Life Year may be different than your Quality Adjustment Life Year

Slate's Darshak Sanghavi discusses some of the problems with the way health care economists judge the cost-effectiveness of various health treatments, within our culture and across cultures. Paul Farmer's Partners-in-Health group is used as anecdotal evidence (as Sanghavi's critique is almost verbatim the one that Paul Farmer gives in his lectures), and Farmer's infamous "before-HAART" picture is included in the article. Farmer hates the QALY (quality adjusted life year) metric, mainly because the QALY assumptions break down the more unlike the treatments are in their target population, and easily damns treating anyone in an impoverished nation with anything more expensive than penicillin and a mosquito net. Despite being an excellent primer in global cost-effectiveness, the article does a great job exploring the extent to which the assumptions of economics, like any statistical science, greatly limit our ability to generalize the results it produces to real policy decisions.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

James Holsinger, a simple prop to occupy our time

The American Public Health Association, founded in 1872 and made up of 50,000 U.S. public health professionals, said it is "very concerned with Dr. Holsinger's past writings regarding his views of homosexuality, which put his political and religious ideology before established medical science."

It was the second time ever, and the first in 26 years, that the group has opposed a U.S. surgeon general nominee.
Funny, the headline reads "Health group opposes Bush surgeon general pick." As if the APHA is just a 'health group.' That's like saying "Book opposes money lending," when said book is the Bible.

Corpus Callosum et al. document well the recent controversy stirred by Richard Carmona's obvious-but-gutsy admission that the Bush administration places politics above science, as well as Holsinger's own personal failings, i.e., being willing to write an article named "Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality." I initially gave the guy a bit of slack, partially out of pure Kentucky hopeful nostalgia, and because I do earnestly believe that evangelicals could have particular insane political beliefs, and yet place them in proper context when formulating opinions about policy. Alas, James Holsinger will never be my insane-but-straight-shooting evangelical.

I'd be thrilled for this guy to prove us all wrong. But, if confirmed, Carmona's testimony suggests that Holsinger wouldn't have a shot at making any real decisions anyway.

I believe this post completes the R.E.M. trifecta, for those following along at home.

Friday, July 6, 2007

"By jingo, buy America"

Kyle on "Mindless, Anti-Christian Jingoism" deserves your attention.

Good to hear "R.E.M.," "guitar-heavy," and "new album" in the same paragraph

Apparently Michael Stipe was editing lyrics onstage during their "working rehearsal" show while finishing up studio album 14.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Doctor Terrorists

Howard Markel on NPR, exploring the Hippocratic Oath and the recent news of physician involvement with terrorism in Britain. Markel is one of a handful of history-of-medicine ninjas at the University of Michigan.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Samoas versus Caramel Delites

If you've ever had the Girl Scout Cookie Talk with friends who grew up in various parts of the country, you'll argue about some of the names. Samoas versus Caramel Delites. Tagalongs? That's my Peanut Butter Patties. Take your fancy Dosidos and shove them down your Peanut Butter Sandwich hole. Courtney and I have the debate often. She maligns my insistence on calling her Samoas the much less exciting Caramel Delites.

Apparently the different names are made at different bakeries, and actually have slightly different formulae. Not sure why certain areas get certain variations, but they're NOT the same. Happy 4th of July. Can't get much more patriotic than Girl Scout Cookies.

Maybe I'll blog about something that matters again sometime soon.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Online Dating
Since I'm in Tennessee/Kentucky, I'll continue along the theme of not posting real content until I'm back in A2. Found this on Feministing, which receives the much more exciting NC-17 tag. I'm not working hard enough. Someone should make fun of Kyle, since Vindicated gets a G. Come on, it's an Anglican blog. That should be at least PG-13 if done right and with significant restraint.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Political quizzes usually tend to fail me (everybody?) miserably, but I found taking both the "How to Win a Fight with a Conservative" and the "How to Win a Fight with a Liberal" quizzes in combination actually meant something to me.

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a Reality-Based Intellectualist, also known as the liberal elite. You are a proud member of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.


How to Win a Fight With a Liberal is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Conservative Identity:

You are a Free Marketeer, also known as a fiscal conservative. You believe in free-market capitalism, tax cuts, and protecting your hard-earned cash from pick-pocketing liberal socialists.

Take the quiz at www.fightliberals.com

This is a big improvement over other quizzes I've taken which always label me a socialist. Come on, just because Courtney and I really want to get two twin German dogs (debating between giant schnauzers and standard poodles) some day and name them Marx and Engels doesn't mean I don't like the free market.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Would you like some loss of sensation with that lopping of your foreskin?

Male infant circumcision is the most common medical procedure performed in the US (although an article I ran across last week said rates were dropping, and most of that rate drop was due to the assimilation of folk from non-penis-disfiguring cultures). Matz and I spent way too many arguments (according to him, I always enjoyed them) in med school over whether circumcsion was Matz: a benign procedure, culturally significant, and good for hygiene, or Garrett: medical barbarism fueled by the inability of American parents to ask why they should be attacking their male children so they can "look like Dad."

So yeah, I don't like circumcision, and I want my foreskin back, despite the marginal improvements in hygiene suggested in a shoddy body of medical literature, although I'm intrigued by literature suggesting that circumcision may have some role in preventing HIV transmission in Africa.

One of the high points of our arguments was always whether circumcision created a differential in sexual pleasure between the lopped and the non-lopped. This study doesn't answer that question, but it's a great demonstration from which we can extrapolate future work:

Adult male volunteers were evaluated with a 19 point Semmes-Weinstein monofilament touch-test to map fine-touch pressure thresholds of the penis. Circumcised and uncircumcised men were compared using mixed models for repeated data, controlling for age, type of underwear worn, time since test ejaculation, ethnicity, country of birth, and level of education.

Analysis of results showed the glans of the uncircumcised men had significantly lower thresholds than that of circumcised men (P = 0.040). There were also significant differences in pressure thresholds by location on the penis

This study suggests that the transitional region from the external to the internal prepuce is the most sensitive region of the uncircumcised penis and more sensitive than the most sensitive region of the circumcised penis. It appears that circumcision ablates the most sensitive parts of the penis.
I repeat, this study does not adequately address the magnitude of sexual pleasure experienced either way. Circumcision occurs when the brain is still markedly plastic, and it's certainly reasonable to think that some rewiring could compensate for the loss of sensation caused by circumcision. But, the results do suggest that the anti-circumcision crowd may be correct: a foreskin is a terrible thing to waste.

During my third year pediatrics rotation, our attending (Matz and I were actually on the same service that month) brought us to the procedure room to assist in a circumcision. Matz was kind enough to speak up for me, that I had some moral cat in the fight, so as to save some face for me and make me not look like a disinterested medical student who didn't want to learn how to do "procedures." The attending asked me about my objection, and I remember replying earnestly that I didn't see any evidence for a benefit to performing the procedure, and I did see evidence for harm. Her reaction was markedly benevolent (she could have destroyed me for daring to openly question an attending's judgment), and assigned me to my greatest role as a medical student: she handed me a pacifier and a packet of sugar, and suggested I keep the little guy as happy as possible while she and the resident elegantly lopped off the poor little guy's foreskin.

Hopefully our lives never depend on our performance on a penile sensation microfilament test.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cosmic blogging coincidences

Back in September of last year, I declared I would never go back to the Briarwood Dollar Movies after a series of terrible experiences with rude employees, disgusting bathrooms, and just general poor quality. But I never got around to seeing 300 on a large screen (and that seemed like the sort of movie that would benefit from being seen in a theater), so today Courtney and I sucked up and decided to give the place another try. We stayed away from the folks at the concession stand, held our urine in our bladders, and beside having to strain to understand some of the dialogue, overall we got our two bucks worth.

And then I come home to get the first comment on said post from back in 2006:

GO WIPE YOUR ASS WITH YOUR 9 DOLLAR TICKETS
DUSCHEBAG!
Awesome. Mr "IP Address 76.226.104.83" thoroughly made my day with that one, and wins the "best alternate spelling of a mainstream cutdown" Award.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ritalin use doubles after divorce

Which of course means that divorce is a disaster for kids and parents and doctors just want to shove pills down their throats to shut them up. Or, at least that's about what the headline and the article want you to believe.

Children from broken marriages are twice as likely to be attention-deficit drugs as children whose parents stay together, a Canadian researcher said on Monday, and she said the reasons should be investigated...

"So the question was, 'is it possible that divorce acts a stressful life event that creates adjustment problems for children, which might increase acting out behavior, leading to a prescription for Ritalin?'" Strohschein said in a statement.

"On the other hand, there is also the very public perception that divorce is always bad for kids and so when children of divorce come to the attention of the health-care system -- possibly because parents anticipate their child must be going through adjustment problems -- doctors may be more likely to diagnose a problem and prescribe Ritalin."...

Her study was not designed to find out why the children were prescribed the drug.
I try to be slightly cautious of criticizing research on days when I'm far too lazy to go read the original study, but it's always easy to criticize how studies are presented to the people who are paying for them through tax dollars (yeah, it's a Canadian study, but still).

I won't entirely dismiss the mechanisms of increased stimulant prescription proposed by the study, as they're narratively compelling and probably are true on at least a limited scale. But why do children become children in a divorced household? Probably because mom and dad can't make things work. What's one reason that's often true? Mental illness, and given the prevalence of adult ADHD (that thing that was childhood ADHD before the child became an adult), we could imagine that folks who get divorced have a much higher prevalence of ADHD. What has a heritable component? ADHD.

So, I'd be shocked if diagnoses of ADHD, and psychostimulant prescriptions, didn't go up after divorce. Not because parents or doctors are seeing children any differently (although they probably are), and not even necessarily because divorce, even one that's best for all parties involved, is a stressful event for a child, which it most certainly is. As a cohort, children from divorced households would be expected to have much higher rates of ADHD from a purely genetic standpoint.

The fact that the risk of receiving a stimulant prescription only increases by a factor of two may be the most surprising result of the study, and might even suggest the opposite of what the article suggests: that doctors and parents view attention-deficit and impulsivity symptoms in a child in such a stressful situation as a transient phenomenon, and thus fail to prescribe in some instances.

Maybe, and maybe not. But the last thing we need is more articles in the media that suggest that a neurological condition is nothing but a result of an unfortunate but statistically normal childhood experience for many children, and the impatient parents (probably mothers) and physicians who want to chemically lobotomize children who display problem behaviors.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Resquiescat in Pace

R.I.P. gets thrown around a lot when people and their lives are separated from one another, and the translation most commonly used by English speakers sounds like a direct command. "Rest in peace, because I said so!" Now, 94% of my Latin is gone, and my wife is at work expecting me to be showering right now, but if Romans were commanding people to rest in peace, I believe that ending would be an -e, (don't quote me on that).

The only reason I mention the academic difference for English speakers is because that -at meaning denotes an exhortation, a plea. It's the same as "Let them eat cake." It's a "Let this person rest in peace." It's a request, it's a hope, it's a prayer. We are actually begging our lost to rest in peace, because we can't unless they do. The imperative mood suggests we have control, certainty. But make no mistake, the proper subjunctive contains its own meditation on the human condition and death. We are the impotent victims of either fate or statistics, two things that we have only tiny means of influencing overall.

No Survivors of UofM Jet Crash. Let them rest in peace. May they rest in peace. Please, for our sake as much as yours, we beg you to rest in peace.

For those of you reading from outside the UofM or Southeastern Michigan area, the plane contained a transplant team. Two crew members, an attending, a fellow, and two other members of the transplant team.

Different services at different hospitals have different reputations. The transplant service at UofM had the best kind of reputation: "we work you until you pass out, but we'll treat you like real live human beings the whole time." That's a medical student dream (well, less the first part, but medical students actually enjoy being worked hard when they, their educations, and the use of their time is being respected.) I've heard from at least one friend that the attending physician on this flight made excellent contributions towards the above reputation of goodness. I didn't have a month on transplant, as only about 20-30 people do each year out of a class of 170, but I know way too many people who are probably very personally effected by this to not be sad for them, including a friend who is on the service right now, and who I'm very thankful was not included on this flight.

Tragedies are often tragic, and this one is no exception. And if tragedies happening to good people are doubly tragic, then his one is also no exception.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Ezra on the politics of Knocked Up

Apparently a few bloggers on either side have deemed Knocked Up to be a pro-life movie since Katherine Heigl's character makes a choice not to have an abortion. Ezra volleys masterfully:

The flick is pro-choice in the most literal sense of the term. Katherine Heigl's character receives advice in both directions, and then makes a decision -- a decision the audience may very well conclude is the wrong one. But she has a choice; nothing is forced on her, and the most explicit scene on abortion features an eloquent speech by her mother advising her to end the pregnancy because, at this point, she's not ready, and these are not the right circumstances. Heigl, it turns out, disagrees, but that's a perfectly allowable, and indeed respectable, decision within the choice framework.
Due to my eerily busy travel schedule, it'll probably take a week or two to get to the twilight showing at Quality 16 (the only theater in Ann Arbor I step foot in, for appropriately complicated reasons), but I'm pumped. You see, as my wife can embarrassingly confirm, I was a massively strange fan of Seth Rogen's character on Freaks and Geeks. His appearance in The 40-Year Old Virgin made the movie for me, and now, Judd Apatow gives him his own movie? Beyond my wildest Freaks and Geeks dreams.

I had a huge crush on the quasi-nerd version of Linda Cardellini, completely unable to predict that she'd turn into the hot nurse on ER, the sort of neo-Abby of emergency resident dreams. Lindsay Weir was the archetypal cute high school brunette smart-girl nobody noticed in their apoplectic fit of adolescent tunnelvision, not the Ennis-seducing blonde saloon girl from Brokeback Mountain. So Cardellini's ascent into mainstream hotness makes me uncomfortable in that pimply, meso-pubescent sort of way. I might have been able to manage a coffee date with Lindsay Weir, but Samantha Taggart would be making fun of the awkward medical student to her fellow nurses by the fridge in the conference room. So that paves the clear path for Seth Rogen to be my official favorite Freaks and Geeks alum (a venerable position, indeed). All hail Seth Rogen!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

NPR on James Holsinger

James Holsinger, University of Kentucky cardiologist and public health professor recently nominated for the Surgeon General position, gets some positive treatment from NPR. He has his conservative credentials: a theology degree from the conservative (but not really in that nasty Falwell/Dobson sort of way) Asbury Theological Seminary, and a history of serving on the judicial council of the United Methodist Church which supported a ban on homosexual clergy (at least according to a questionable reference on his Wikipedia site).

Buzzflash, which I'm not familiar with, but looks like a potentially very fringy far-left sort of source, has an article expressing its mass unhappiness with Holsinger's nomination. I don't necessarily trust the claims of malfeasance and malpractice, but it's always interesting to see what sort of dirt is being thrown at someone from either side of the wingnutsphere.

For example, while I find it personally unacceptable that homosexuals be excluded from clergy positions, I also don't think that someone who disagrees with that position would necessarily discriminate against homosexual persons in health policy. The latter is the question to be asked, not the former. He's being nominated for Surgeon General, not National Chaplain. If that's the most damning criticism a far-left source can expose towards a public health official's treatment towards the LGBT community, then concern over his policy positions towards the LGBT community may be a general non-starter.

Here's hoping that Holsinger at least represents the best of what we could expect from the Bush administration. I wouldn't anticipate a nominee wholesale interested in the best available evidence outside the realm of a conservative, fundamentalist world-view. So if Holsinger is a nominee who stands on the side of medical evidence, we may have a much better nominee than we ever would have anticipated.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Psychiatry and Pooh

One of my friends sent me an article on whether or not Anakin Skywalker has a DSM-IV psychiatric disorder (long story short, he probably does and in all likelihood, more than one). Since I absolutely detest the new Star Wars and only moderately like the old ones at best, I thought I would instead follow the link to a more interesting and humorous study on fictional characters: "Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood". And you thought Pooh's honey-lust was endearing, not a cry for help. My favorite line: "This unfortunate bear embodies the concept of comorbidity."

To be honest, as much as I enjoy making fun of childhood classics, it's not really surprising that so many fictional characters would display traits consistent with a psychiatric disorder. When you think about it, many psychiatric disorders contain traits that we all experience at one time or another, but to such an extreme degree as to cause significant disruptions to life. All of us are have been happy or sad or irritable or excited at one time or another. Fortunately, not everyone has a major depressive or manic episode. Considering that good stories usually require something unusual happen, it seems reasonable to give some of these traits to characters. After all, do you want to read a fictional tale of an average guy doing average stuff? No thank you; I'll take the OCD bear and his gender-identity disorder pal.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

WTF? Paris to pay immigrants to return

While the US polarizes itself with talk of big fences, "Amnesty", and a complex array of temporary-guest-workers (aka indentured servants) and visas, other countries are thinking "outside the box". Have too many immigrants? Why not pay them to go home? That's what France is doing.

New Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux said a family with two children would be paid 6,000 euros (£4,068) to return to their country.
Gotta love those French.

Maybe Boehner should just write for SNL

From Political Wire:

Quote of the Day

"I promised the President today that I wouldn't say anything bad about... this piece of shit bill."

-- House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), quoted by The Hotline, on the immigration bill.
I generally stay out of immigration debates, as I really just don't know what to say about them. I have no idea what actually does the most good for the least harm in these cases. Some of the reason for that is Eric Schlosser's excellent chapter in Reefer Madness that details illegal immigrant labor in California strawberry fields. Schlosser, who you probably remember better from Fast Food Nation, adequately dissects similar policy propositions as what are being debated now, and they all come up pretty sour. I don't even know what extremists on either side would really propose, short of "close the borders and shoot all the Mexicans" and "open up the borders and let everybody in."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

See Zombie Run?

Josh Levin ponders one of the essential questions of life: why, all the sudden, do movie zombies run instead of drag after their victims? Non-canonical heresy, or Darwin at work?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cats for Pistons

Matt Jones explains how Tayshaun Prince singlehandedly gave the commonwealth its NBA team.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why does rape or incest matter?

Samhita at Feministing (one of the greatest blogs in the sphere) takes Sam Brownback to task for his comments on abortion and rape and incest the other night:

Yeah you heard it right. Senator Sam Brownback actually argued on Wednesday that, "We talk about abortion, but abortion is a procedure. This is a life that we’re talking about. And it’s a terrible situation where there’s a rape that’s involved or incest. But it nonetheless remains that this is a child that we’re talking about doing this to, of ending the life of this child."
Now, I grew up in a fundamentalist household, and I've simply never understood the rape-and-incest line of argument, as if somehow whether the fetus is a product of rape or incest changes the fundamental facts of the abortion question.

I feel like I do a better job than most really breaking down the debate, but we'll see.

A fetus is one of two things:
  • A) A human being, and should thus have full protection under whatever laws we could scrounge together to protect it, or
  • B) A clump of cells living in a woman's uterus that, if given the opportunity, would likely somehow escape the uterus and begin development as a human being.
By tone of writing, its readily apparent that I support the latter definition.

From B), two options seem reasonable to me:
  • 1) Mother decides that the clump of cells living in her uterus represents a future human being that should develop as her child. She wants that child, and she wishes for that child to escape her uterus and begin development, and from this point has a legal obligation to protect the child.
  • 2) Mother decides that the clump of cells living in her uterus does not represent a future human being that should develop as her child. She thus decides to have abortion to have an unwanted mass of cells removed from her body.
So, where does rape or incest fit into ANY of this paradigm? I see no morally defensible middle ground between A) and B) or between 1) and 2).

Between A) and B), we could insert these notions:
  • i) A fetus is a human being but does not enjoy the rights of a human being outside the womb.
  • ii) At some arbitrary point during gestation the fetus changes from being a clump of cells to a human being, irrespective of a mother's wishes.
But neither make any sense to me. i) requires arbitrary notion of a second-class citizen. ii) requires that there's something magical about a cellular process independent of a social construct. I reject both of these outright as absurdities, although I find these are two popularly held beliefs. They're convenient, and let people make decisions about abortion de facto (and set silly regulations about so-called partial birth abortions or legislate abortion regulations differently depending on trimester of gestation) without actually considering any consistency with other moral beliefs. These notions might be useful shortcuts, but they don't seem logically defensible.

So I only see two morally defensible takes on abortion:
  • A*) Abortion is wrong because a fetus is a human being who deserves all the rights and protections of law, except possibly in the case of a mother's life being in danger, where all of this paradigm breaks down, and more subheadings would be required.
  • B*) Abortion is on average morally neutral and a decision left to a woman who has the right to make decisions about her own reproductive health regarding a pregnancy at any point prior to its termination through abortion or delivery.
Again, by tone of writing, its readily apparent that I support the latter definition.

I just don't see how rape and incest fit into this paradigm. Either a fetus is a human being, and killing it is murder, or a fetus is a prospective human being, and killing it is not murder.

I'm a firm believer in B*, but I do believe that A* is morally defensible, even if I absolutely reject it, because I know of no absolute way to differentiate between A and B. Now, in some cases, such as when Sam Brownback starts talking, A seems flat out hateful and ignorant. "You got raped and became pregnant? Tough shit! Go to church, you filthy harlot! They have free nursery during services!"

But I know a handful of rational, pro-women pro-lifers who subscribe to A and A*, and they are intelligent and thoughtful enough for me not to reject their ideas as ignorant. A and A* can certainly be included in a rational progressive agenda that supports women in poverty, provides unfettered access to proper contraceptive and reproductive health resources, and punishes perpetrators of violence on women. But give me B and B* any day, because they simply make more sense to me, and allow women more control over their lives.

I'm actually asking for answers here, and I know of at least a few regular readers that have the backgrounds to make reasoned comments. Why does rape or incest matter when determining whether an abortion should be permitted?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How to fix a laptop (that isn't really broken)

  1. Spend all day trying to clean your registry, update antivirus software, get rid of spyware, defrag, etc.
  2. Turn it off for a few hours.
  3. Turn it back on and cry when it only runs at a reasonable speed for the first five minutes.
  4. Stay up until 2 in the morning googling why the fan keeps making that really strange noise.
  5. Find out that a legion of geeks have encountered similar problems before, and even written software that lets someone like me highjack my computer fans, which will probably on result in me setting my apartment on fire.
  6. Turn it off and take the whole thing apart.
  7. Put it back together, counting your blessings that the number of screws equals the number of holes that seem to require screws.
  8. Blow on it like it's a NES game in 1987.
  9. Enjoy a computer that works again (and may continue to do so for hours, maybe even days, maybe even weeks).
I really enjoy the fact that the most likely intervention of any consequence was blowing really hard to clean some of the lint and dust from around the fans. My CPU is at a cool 136 degrees at 1.2 mhz (why not at 1.7 like it was a few minutes ago, and is rated for, I have no clue). Great success! (until tomorrow)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Confessions of a Show Killer

Okay, I know it's been forever and a day since I've posted. I wish I could say that I have been waiting for a really great topic to blog about, some sort of earth-shattering event which I've uncovered or have remarkable insight on. Alas, I cannot. No, what pushes me take up the pen...er...keyboard again is actually a guilty conscience. You see, folks, I'm a killer. As you may have read, CBS has just announced the cancellation of "Jericho" and I'm afraid that it's all my fault.

What's that you say? You've never even heard of Jericho? The show sounds stupid? You didn't think Skeet Ulrich was still around? I understand where you're coming from. But you see, I liked the show. Sure, a post-apocalyptic small-town Kansas might not be the most relatable of locations for someone like me. And sure, having a nuclear bomb detonate in America may not be the most PC image in this post-9/11 world (a phrase I would retire if I had the authority), despite 24's outright theft of the idea. Nevertheless, the show was entertaining. It made some interesting statements about small towns and the way Americans would act if they were suddenly isolated from the rest of the country and world. Throw in a few good mysteries about who even bombed us in the first place (and the somewhat predictable "can we trust any new people who've come around lately?") and there was a reason to come back week after week. Plus it stayed away from the mistakes of one of my other favorite shows, LOST, and you know, wouldn't just make shit up for the sake of having more mysteries.

And then the show went on mid-season hiatus. I forgot about it. I figured out other things to do on Wednesday nights. I don't watch anything else on CBS so I never bothered to figure out when the show came back. Apparently no one else did either. The show that once had an article on CNN about how a post-apocalyptic drama would ironically be the hot new star of the season died a painful and viewer-less death. It's amazing the difference 5 months makes.

Of course, if I really had cared that much about the show, I could have paid attention to it. I could have made an effort to figure out when it was on and actually watched. I could have stopped rationalizing that if I ever wanted to get back into it, I could always just watch the episodes online for free. But the show's passing begs the question, "Is a mid-season hiatus really that necessary???"

Witness, if you will, Heroes, my new favorite, and the only show on NBC that is actually watched by someone who isn't an NBC exec. Despite being one of the strongest series on the network, even it took a tremendous nose-dive following it's 6 week hiatus. It took until the penultimate episode of the season to even start to regain it's coveted viewership. LOST too has taken it's biggest hits in audience numbers during the long-midseason breaks; granted LOST has plenty of other problems.

In the end, though, is the midseason break really necessary? I understand wanting to save your best stuff for sweeps, or wanting to limit production costs by ordering a few less episodes each season. If the audience stays away though, is it really that cost effective? I think I'd honestly prefer to have all the episodes shown in a row. Then just do repeats until the new season. Who wouldn't prefer that to having to look up each week whether the show is on or off again, eventually just deciding maybe it isn't worth watching?

You hear that, Heroes? Spinoffs aren't going to prevent a dive in your ratings. Midseason breaks aren't going to shore up that advertising revenue. Networks, just give us the new stuff in order and we'll promise to stay with you until the end.

Otherwise, I may be forced to kill again.

Patrick Patterson a Wildcat

My first ever blog post dealt with Randolph Morris presser announcing his decision to come to Kentucky over Georgia Tech. Kentucky fans can certainly debate the disappointment of the "greatest recruiting class" of Rondo, Crawford, Morris, and Bradley, but the Billy Clyde era is here, and there will be no Lot's wife pillar-of-salt action going on here. There's momentum to match the tradition.

KentuckySportsRadio is farked right now, but Matt Jones and company streamed the press conference via cell phone (beautifully low tech), and PPat's barely discernible garble of "University of Kentucky" brought appropriate Kentucky screams in the Huntington High gym, about thirty minutes from the house where I grew up. Now if the kid even remotely lives up to the hype...

Eat shit, Florida. Eat shit, Billy Donovan. Long live Billy Clyde!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Link Roundup, my computer is making angry sounds at me edition

I'm somehow surprised everyday that goes by that my old Inspiron 8200 doesn't burst into flames. Blogging and other work has taken a backseat to research and more board exam prep, but these links are burning holes in my Firefox pocket.

  1. Sweden's #1 tobacco product, Snus, is getting headlines all the sudden because a recent study found an increased rate of pancreatic cancer for users, even though that rate is still well below that of smoking. The Swedish figured out a long time ago that smokeless tobacco, stored properly with very specific manufacturing techniques, is so much less dangerous than cigarette smoking that converting all smokers to chewers would have health benefits far outweighing our current methods of offering smoking cessation to an unwilling population. But that's the Swedish for you.
  2. Fresh Air turns 20: listen to Oliver Sacks and Tom Wolfe.
  3. Fruit juice doesn't make kids fat? Haven't seen the actual paper, but can't help feeling suspicious that this study didn't do a very good job controlling for other family health habits. We would expect parents who give their kids a lot of fruit juice to be a little more health conscious overall, and might not be surprised to see that kids who get their calories from fruit juice don't get excess calories from other poor diet choices. For some reason I just doubt that fruit juice calories don't count, which is the latent message in the press release.
  4. Parody abounds: Microsoft Firefox ("where am I today?") and the Onion's anti-abortion pill, UR-86, that kills the mother and saves the fetus.
  5. Oral sex increases the risk of a certain throat cancer from ultra-low to slightly-less-ultra-low:
    And those people who had had more than six oral sex partners were 8.6 times more likely to develop the HPV-linked cancer.
    Hear that, kids? You only get to have oral sex with five partners! Choose them wisely. Seems like an interesting take on those cellphone commercials. "Who's in your five?"
  6. Cervical cancer vaccine less effective in sexually active. I'd hope this would come from the "no shit" research files, but sadly, the obvious does need to be stated for the anti-Gardasil crew who don't want their daughters turning into sluts because their risk of dying of a preventable cancer might be reduced.
  7. Psychiatrists are evil and give your kids deadly medications because the drug companies pay them off in smoky, dimly lit rooms! MWAHAHAHA! This is one of the most manipulative, poorly written anti-psychiatry articles (even in the NYT, which manages to run plenty of anti-psychiatry drivel) I've seen in awhile, and I just can't bring myself to fisk it. If you're reading this, you probably already have the cognitive function available to see the gaping holes in the story.