Thursday, April 26, 2007

Iowa a safe place for gays?

Iowa is positioned to become the most recent state to provide some protection to LGBT individuals. A bill that adds sexual orientation to the list under the anti-discrimination policy was passed by the senate and will head to the house for final approval. If is passes the upper house, it will go to the governor's desk - and he's already committed to signing it.

Who knows Iowa would be a good place to work as a gay individual? Or better yet, why are there still 31 states that don't provide anti-discrimination protection to LGBT people? Come on - let's get this party rolling!

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Farm Bill as Government Subsidized Obesity

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, writes in the New York Times Magazine:

A public-health researcher from Mars might legitimately wonder why a nation faced with what its surgeon general has called “an epidemic” of obesity would at the same time be in the business of subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup. But such is the perversity of the farm bill: the nation’s agricultural policies operate at cross-purposes with its public-health objectives.
Read the rest: "You Are What You Grow" (h/t: Will Samson)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What better to balance vitriol than a puppy video

Not my puppy.

How could you write any less intelligently about menstruation?

I know nothing about Stephanie Saul, and I don't know anything about having a period. I know a lot about living with someone who has them and constantly complains about them, and yet doesn't really have any interest in not having them. I can accept that sort of doublethink just fine. God knows I probably exhibit behavior and attitudes at least that discordant.

Let me be absolutely clear: If a woman has a complicated relationship with her menstrual cycle that relates to her identity and personal relationship with her body, that's great. Seriously. I don't bleed. I don't know what it's like. If there's something symbolic about it for you, that's cool. If it helps you understand your relationship to your body, awesome. I can at least imagine it on a literary level. I can't think of any exact analog for a guy's relationship with his sexual anatomy, but if there was one, I bet I'd have a complicated relationship with it too.

But if a woman doesn't have a complicated relationship with her menstrual cycle, then my God, why does she have to bleed if she doesn't want to? Since when has feminism become about limiting a woman's choice?

So here's a brutal jump-around fisking of Ms. Saul's pseudofeminist drollery.

For many women, a birth control pill that eliminates monthly menstruation might seem a welcome milestone. But others view their periods as fundamental symbols of fertility and health, researchers have found. Rather than loathing their periods, women evidently carry on complex love-hate relationships with them.
Oh my God! Women don't agree on everything! Holy shit, there's more than one valid opinion on a matter in this world! How will we ever survive until next week without our unity?
This ambivalence is one reason that a decision expected next month by the Food and Drug Administration has engendered controversy. The agency is expected to approve the first contraceptive pill that is designed to eliminate periods as long as a woman takes it.
Alberto Gonzales: controversy. Gun control on college campuses: controversy. Approving a new birth control pill that ruins the old misogynistic proverb "never trust something that bleeds for a week and doesn't die?": Yawn.
“My concern is that the menstrual cycle is an outward sign of something that’s going on hormonally in the body,” said Christine L. Hitchcock, a researcher at the University of British Columbia. Ms. Hitchcock said she worries about “the idea that you can turn your body on and off like a tap.”
Two points here. The first one, valid. Amenorrhea is an outward sign that something isn't working quite right, and this pill would mask that. Valid point. The second one, the "turning your body on and off like a tap" thing, is this woman for real? Who cares? If people want to contemplate the symbolic nature of their own menstrual cycle (which I certainly do not oppose), that's cool. But to unilaterally say that every woman out there, whether she finds her cycle to be something personally important to her or not, should necessarily have to have the thing, with only poetry to back you up, is pretty dumb.
That viewpoint is apparently one reason some already available birth control pills that can enable women to have only four periods a year have not captured a larger share of the oral contraceptive market.
Oh my God! The market can handle a diversity of goods!
“It’s not an easy decision for a woman to give up her monthly menses,” said Ronny Gal, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company.
Or its just not a necessary decision. If a woman is on a birth control regimen that works for her, and the benefit of not having a period isn't worth having to fiddle with that regimen, that seems pretty reasonable to me.
Doctors say they know of no medical reason women taking birth control pills need to have a period. The monthly bleeding that women on pills experience is not a real period, in fact.
Okay, this is when Ms. Saul really loses my vote. "Hey birth control pill users, you phonies, you don't even have real periods!!! That's not blood dripping from you for five days every month, that's really just cherry slurpee the drug company implanted in you while you were asleep! Fooled you!"

What the hell? No, you don't have an egg to shed when you're on the pill, because you don't ovulate. But you still shed some endometrial tissue, and unless I just totally failed my GYN rotation, I'm pretty sure that constitutes a "real" period. Labeling an on-the-pill period as "fake" seems a little, well, nutty? To make such a claim, you either a) have a really bad understanding of science, b) believe everything you're told, or c) have a very specific agenda.
And studies have found no extra health risks associated with pills that stop menstruation, although some doctors caution that little research has been conducted on long-term effects.
Welcome to drug research. How do you conduct research on long-term effects if people don't take the medication for long periods of time? It's not like we have a colony of research-people on the moon we can feed Seasonale for the next fifty years to see if they grow an extra arm on their head or something, and then get back in our space ship-time machine to come back to 2007 to tell everybody that it's totally safe, except for that arm-growing-out-of-your-head thing. We don't have long-term research on most of the birth control regimens in existence now, as most research I've seen just lumps OCPs into one big catch-all category. That might be totally appropriate, but maybe this progestin analog causes arms to grow out your head, and another one doesn't. We won't know for fifty years.
The topic has, however, inspired an hourlong documentary by Giovanna Chesler, “Period: The End of Menstruation?,” currently screening on college campuses and among feminist groups.

Ms. Chesler, who teaches documentary making at the University of California, San Diego, said she became concerned about efforts to eliminate menstruation when she first heard about the idea several years ago.

“Women are not sick,” she said. “They don’t need to control their periods for 30 or 40 years.”
Geez, and I thought the "Left Behind" people needed to get a life. No, women are not sick, but they take birth control pills because they'd like to actually be able to enjoy sex without having seventeen children. If stopping ovulation with pills is okay, why is stopping menstruation with pills somehow worse? At least, medically.
There has also been a backlash among groups that celebrate the period as a spiritual or natural process, like the California-based Red Web Foundation. “The focus of our group is to create positive attitudes toward the menstrual cycle; suppressing it wouldn’t be positive,” said Anna C. Yang, a holistic nurse and executive director of the organization.
What a bunch of hippies. Nobody's FORCING this stuff down your throat. If you love your menstrual cycle, knock yourself out. If you want to celebrate your menstrual cycle as a central theme of womanhood, have fun. But leave women alone who don't think it's fun to bleed 20% of the time for thirty years.
Eliminating menstruation is not a completely new concept. Women who take any kind of oral contraceptive do not have real periods.

Because the hormones in pills stop the monthly release of an egg and the buildup of the uterine lining, there is no need for the lining to shed — as occurs during true menstruation.
Not again. Space cadet.
At the alternative Bluestockings Bookstore on the Lower East Side of Manhattan early this month, several dozen women gathered for the New York premiere of “Period: The End of Menstruation?,” Ms. Chesler’s hourlong documentary. It explores the idea of suppressing the menstrual period but leaves the viewer to make up her own mind.

One who attended the screening, Aviva Bergman, a 22-year-old student at Goucher College in Maryland, said she would not use products that suppressed her period because it seemed unnatural.
You know what else is unnatural? Being able to have sex without worrying about getting pregnant. Injecting yourself with insulin because your pancreas doesn't work. Getting a heart transplant. Nuclear bombs. Soy milk.

You know what's perfectly natural? Earthquakes. Floods. Hurricanes. Puppies. Rainbows.

Natural doesn't seem like the best proxy of goodness. Seems like most of us evolved with intellects that can stomach a bit of nuance and context here and there.
“I just feel that there’s a reason you’re getting it every month,” she said.
Feel away! It's your menstrual cycle. Do what you want with it. But it's your menstrual cycle, and not that of the woman sitting next to you. Make your own decisions, and leave other people alone.

Yeah, there's a reason "you're getting it" every month. It's because (oh hell, you can look it up on wikipedia, if you're that interested in reproductive endocrinology). I'm pretty sure there's nothing magical about pulses of GnRH, although I'm not a medical student at Hogwarts, and may be out of my league on this one.

I don't anticipate that anyone is actually going to read down this far. If you did, please keep all these comments in focus with the overriding thesis.
  1. Women should get to decide what they do with their own bodies.
  2. There's nothing feminist about trying to limit the choice of other women for poetic reasons.
  3. We don't know much about the long term effects of suppressing periods indefinitely. but we also don't have much medical reason to think that regimens that suppress periods indefinitely will really be much of a problem in comparison to contraceptive regimens already available.
  4. There's nothing magic about things that are natural. Cancer is natural. Air conditioning is unnatural.
  5. I've never had a period. I'm only qualified to speak about the medical and political implications of this stuff. I do not question anyone's personal experience with menstruation.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

What do 5 members of the SCOTUS and near-sighted gynecologists have in common?

They all have wet noses! (Apologies to the 98% of you that don't get the reference)*

I held off posting on the Supreme Court's decision to be supremely retarded, figuring someone else would write something more measured and that would hit all the points I wanted to hit. Lynn Harris at Salon did a pretty good job.

In general, critics of "partial-birth abortion" bans -- which are also on the books in 26 states (though enjoined in 18) -- have long argued that not only is there no such medical term as "partial-birth abortion," but that such laws define it so as to appear to also include a variation of dilation and evacuation (D&E), by far the most common -- and safest -- method of second-trimester abortion (which is relatively rare itself; at least 85 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester). In other words, the ban could be interpreted to outlaw abortion procedures used very early in the second trimester (not to mention those used for women who have learned via amniocentesis, as late as 20 weeks or more, that they're carrying a fatally abnormal fetus).
And even better:
Make no mistake: "This ban is not just about later-term abortion," says Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who argued Gonzales v. Carhart. "The options for all women -- particularly women facing serious medical conditions -- have been dramatically reduced. No longer can women and their physicians decide what's in their best interest. Now there's the added concern about whether what's in their best interest will be in violation of federal criminal statutes." Among opponents of the ban, gallows humor was the order of the day. As in: "I'd like to give you the best possible care," your doctor might say, "but first let me check with my lawyer."
*The UMMS 2007 Smoker included the joke "What does my dog Winston have in common with a near-sighted gynecologist? They both have wet noses!"

NB: My dog is not named Winston.

Civil Units in New Hampshire

NH's govenor has finally weighed in and will sign legislation creating Civil Unions in the state starting next year. I applaud him for making this move. But it begs the question, why are all the states that are making it a safe and semi-equal place for lesbians and gays to live in the North East? Come on, can't the rest of the country catch up? Even California, Oregon or Washington? I know it's not likely in South Carolina, Texas or even Michigan, but we've got to see this breaking out somewhere else in the country.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Link Roundup, random med news buffet edition

  1. Do fictional diseases increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Probably not. So Restless Leg Syndrome probably isn't a fictional disease. I get so tired of the "nobody'd ever heard of RLS until just a few years ago, but now because some drug company can make money, everybody has it!" argument. That's not to say that I don't think problems like this get over diagnosed after physicians and patients are suddenly inundated with a new possible answer to old problems, but that doesn't mean RLS isn't a real entity.
  2. The NHS has just NOW apparently figured out that it's not a good idea for patients and doctors to be inserting probes into one another for procedures that they can't bill for.
  3. Alpha-blockers for nightmares in PTSD? Will urological psychiatry become a new fellowship?
  4. Glucosamine/Chondroitin Sulfate still doesn't do shit except take your money.
  5. Jonathan Cohn Jonathan Cohn Jonathan Cohn. I'm going to have to read his stupid book before I go nuts hearing something new about it three times a day. He sounds sensible enough on NPR.

Fox News pisses on Kurt Vonnegut's grave

I always knew there would be a special level of hell for the folks at Fox News, but I didn't know they were going to work towards pushing that level further and further down.

Disgusting. After calling Vonnegut "irrelevant," the final lines of the obituary take the cake:

Vonnegut, who failed at suicide 23 years ago, said 34 year ago that he hoped his children wouldn't say of him when he was gone, "He made wonderful jokes, but he was such an unhappy man." So, I'll say it for them. Kurt Vonnegut was 84. In Washington, James Rosen, Fox News.
What a stupid fuck of a man.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sympathy for Hokies

I've only been through Blacksburg once, to pick up a friend at VT on the way to church camp back in my Falwell-brainwash days, but I remember seeing a beautiful campus on a very beautiful day.

Here's hoping folks there can get back to enjoying how beautiful it is very soon. Tragedies suck. Hard.

Men do just as much work as women do (just maybe)

Joel Waldfogel tries his best to suppress some latent misogyny on his review of a survey by some economists of 25 nations measuring how much combined work, "market" work and "house" work, men and women do. The study finds, popular to common belief in sociological circles, that men and women, at least on average, and in richer nations, tend to do the same amount of work each day. The end-article caveat seems spot-on, though:

Many women with demanding careers tell me that it is women working full-time in the market, not women overall, who work more than comparable men. This study cannot settle that question because it does not report work time separately for people with and without market jobs. But if women with careers work more than men, while women overall work the same amount as men, then women without market jobs must work less than men. Men can use that argument to hit the couch in the afternoon. Or to end up there at night.
Something tells me that Waldfogel might be looking at some nights on the couch for writing this article.

It's a little disappointing that we don't get some nice reported sub-group analysis, since the research question becomes most interesting in the context of couples who work roughly equally outside the home.

Given the massive pile of laundry in the hallway, the overflowing trash can in the bathroom, and the wads of unvacuumed puppy hair on the floor, I think you can safely assume that Courtney and I do equivalent housework: not much.

Tax Returns Rise for Immigrants in U.S. Illegally

Thought this was an interesting article in the NY Times about an increase in the number of undocumented aliens paying income taxes. A lot of Americans assume that these people don't pay any taxes and just sponge off of society, but they forget that they all pay sales tax, and with the use of individual taxpayer numbers they can pay income taxes. People also forget that many of the services these populations utilize are for health care and schooling, which (in my eyes) takes a pretty big asshole to deny someone. Apparently, some link the rise to possible amnesty and other roads to citizenship that will require payment of taxes and back taxes. It's nice that when people see a road to citizenship they are encouraged to participate in the larger society.

In 2005 alone, more than $5 billion in tax liability — the total owed, including money withheld from paychecks during the year — was reported in the 2.9 million returns that listed at least one person with an ITIN, she said. And between 1996 and 2003, such filers reported nearly $50 billion of tax liability.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sorry Zombie lovers, the McCoys were not infected with rage

Despite the fact that I'm currently reading Max Brook's oral history of the coming Zombie war, I was a bit put off by the misleading headlines last week. Imagine that, misleading headlines about medical research. The media went haywire about a report that a genetic disorder in the McCoy side of the Hatfield-McCoy might have caused all that hillbilly rage. You know, like in 28 Days Later.

Mostly for the non-medical folk who read this blog:

McCoy descendants have been found to have a high number of cases of Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome (VHL). On my week of neurosurgery last year, I met a patient with VHL, and believe me, they weren't chasing me around the table, infected with rage. VHL doesn't cause rage. It causes tumors in lots of places, usually around rich vascular supplies, because of an autosomal dominant lack of a certain binding protein. One of the tumors that are common in certain subtypes of VHL are pheochromocytomas, adrenal gland tumors. Pheos present clinically with sudden episodes of sweating, crazy high blood pressure, etc., from basically a big dumping of catecholamines (like adrenaline) into the blood stream. Anyone who's watching 24 this season knows what happens when you inject people, like presidents, with shots of adrenaline. They start pretending to drop nuclear bombs on unnamed Arabic nations.

Pheochromocytomas are rare, but for some reason are classically represented on boards exams, so every medical student on earth can pick out a pheo on a standardized test from 20 miles away. But because they're so rare, and typically not as interesting as in the above test, non-medical folk just don't know anything about them.

Pheochromocytomas are also most commonly not related to VHL, although they are a hallmark of several of the multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes. Again, boards questions for medical students, rarely obscure for non-medical folks.

Of course, my question immediately becomes, has there been an episode of CSI about a pheochromocytoma? Has there been an episode of House? If not, I bet you won't have to wait much longer.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Lithium cuts suicide risk in recurrent depression

The overall rate of suicidal acts was 1.48 percent annually among those not given lithium compared with 0.17 percent per year among those treated with lithium -- an 88.5 percent reduction in risk.
For better or worse, current thought among the medical community is that SSRIs are so safe, a monkey could prescribe them. Just above monkeys, of course, are psychiatrists, family docs, and nurse practitioners. Psychologists typically gain the most support for their petitions for prescribing rights on the safety of SSRIs.

But lithium is something altogether scarier, again, for better or worse. Psychiatrists prescribe lithium. Nobody else does. And now there's evidence that, at least in the population defined in this study, the attributable benefit of lithium could be about 8/9 for suicide prevention. So some questions immediately arise (some maybe because I just haven't got around to looking at the original article yet):

1) What patients with depression (since most depression is undoubtedly recurrent depression) would benefit from lithium? I don't know what it feels like to be on lithium, but from Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind, it doesn't sound like the most benign drug. Thus, balancing the way lithium makes patients feel, in addition to all the long term nephrotoxicity and such, with the benefit of less death by suicide will be quite an important endeavor. Will that be an endeavor for psychiatrists, or for the larger mental health practitioner community?

2) Do all of these patients suddenly need psychiatrists to prescribe their lithium, or would non-psychiatrists become more comfortable prescribing lithium, at least as a depression adjuvant, which would likely be a far less complex endeavor than managing bipolar disorder?

3) Does this strengthen or weaken the case for prescribing rights for psychologists? After all, this paper is proposing a change to our current care model that could cause a dramatic increase in the need for more specialized mental health services. Of course, this assumes that the answer to question 2) is that non-psychiatrists would not become more comfortable prescribing lithium adjuvant therapy for depression.

4) And of course, if one mood stabilizer decreases the risk of death by suicide for folks with recurrent depression, what would the others do? Now that some atypical antipsychotics have been approved as mood stabilizers, where do they fit into this picture?

5) Do SSRIs remain relevant to the treatment of recurrent depression? Not to be too cynical, but all but Lexapro are off patent.

On a parallel note, check out The Last Psychiatrist's take on new evidence that adjuvant SSRI therapy adds nothing to patients with bipolar disorder already on a mood stabilizer. Especially relevant to question 5).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Goodbye, Blue Monday

When my radio alarm woke me up this morning, I caught "he survived the firebombing of Dresden, and much of his early work dealt with atrocities..."

Holy Shit.

The segment ended, I poked Courtney, and she listened to the last bit with me, still too asleep to process that all the verbs were in the past tense. She ran to the computer and popped up the news, and there it was. Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84.

You're not supposed to cry when people die whom you never met. But damn, I can hardly even type right now. I was okay, until I entered that title above, and then it just broke. Goodbye, Blue Monday. It's like the god damn Velveteen Rabbit all over again.

People either get Vonnegut, or they don't. Few people who get Vonnegut don't have a period of their life where they start voraciously consuming his novels as fast as they can read for at least a few months. You change during those months. I think I was 16. People talk about great writers, but Vonnegut was an important writer. He was important because he's often the first writer that existential dysthymic teenagers run across who is so interested in something that, however nebulously, you have to call truth.

Vonnegut, like the other main artistic force in my personal development, R.E.M., wasn't doing anything nowadays to add to his legacy. A Man Without A Country was a guilty pleasure, and quintessential Vonnegut, but it wasn't a book, and it was clear to all of us that he wasn't going to write another book. Timequake wasn't even supposed to happen, and plenty of people wish it hadn't. But Kurt Vonnegut had a series of seven novels, each of which incrementally dealt further with his time in Dresden, leading to his eventual release from its grasp on his artistic psyche in Breakfast of Champions.

He was old, and the fact that he didn't die of lung cancer might be a small miracle unto itself. But these days come. And these days are devastating.

On the top of one of my bookshelves, every Vonnegut book published (except for a few of the random nonfiction ones that have popped up over the past ten years or so, mostly collections of previous stuff), is lined up in a nice dusty row. Several of them have more than one copy, due to the merging of my and Courtney's book collection. I imagine the two or three that have managed to avoid being read for all these years will find that streak coming to an end very soon.

Funny, I just mentioned to Courtney that we watched Slaughterhouse Five on DVD the night of our first kiss.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A well-intentioned white southerner's education on racism

Please understand that I'm not being sarcastic here, because if I were reading this post, I think I would think it was sarcastic in parts.

I grew up in northeastern Kentucky around a bunch of white people and a handful of Asian doctors' kids. I think there were some black kids in some of the neighboring school systems, but I don't think any stayed at Russell for more than a few years. I didn't really know any of them. So sure, I was ignorant about race in the classical sense. I wasn't exposed to race issues personally in any meaningful way, and the little I knew about race issues came from books and TV and bad jokes.

So stuff I've learned this year:
-The world 'articulate' has some sort of weird history (predating Barry-O) as a derogatory term for well-spoken folks who are African American. Didn't know that.
-Tar-baby from Song of the South, which I knew in its situational context, has a racial context as well. Didn't know that. I remember singing Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da a lot when I was kid, because it was a catchy tune. I knew Brer Rabbit was a rabbit, Brer Bear a bear, Brer Fox a fox, and Uncle Remus, well, somebody's uncle, and a farmer. Black sharecropper didn't really mean anything different than the farmer in the dell. And Song of the South really wasn't something on the forefront of my brain to really reconsider.
-Nappy refers to, according to wiki, the texture of African hair which has not been altered chemically. I knew that nappy hair was similar to hair that was in dreads, and I guess I knew
that dreads had African roots. But I don't think I necessarily understood that there was a necessarily negative connection there. And when I first read the whole Imus thing, I don't think I really understood that his "nappy-headed ho" comment was really any more inflammatory than the entirely disgusting and uncalled-for stuff he says every day.

My wife asked me why I was even writing this post, what I possibly hoped to accomplish by a) painting myself as a dumb hick, b) risking giving the impression that I somehow tolerated things that other folks found hurtful, c) rambling.

A) My thesis is not that white southerners are dumb hicks, but that some aspects of the white southern experience differ meaningfully than that of folks who grew up in relatively progressive urban environments, and can easily include minimal exposure to race issues in a meaningful way. I think it's non-obvious to folks who have only lived in progressive areas that reasonably intelligent and even well-intentioned people can be ignorant about the finer points of race issues due simply to lack of exposure.
B) Each of the three controversial points above could elude a well-intentioned person with minimal exposure to race issues. My initial reaction to all three was generally dismissive until I saw that reasonably mainstream folks with more direct experience with race issues could find the usages undesirable. I'm not convinced that "articulate" and "tar-baby" are inherently racist words, but I am convinced that it's probably not worth using them in these contexts, because there are intelligent folk who could reasonably feel marginalized by their usage.
C) Well, yeah.

Link Roundup, Baseball and Robots edition

Baseball's "hitting slump" probably isn't due to de-juiced balls or steroid deterrents, but about the ever-widening strike zone. Which makes sense, since the vast majority of baseball hits are not homeruns. And anybody that's watched Barry Bonds work the count has to wonder if anything that doesn't hit Barry's bat would ever be called a strike.

And more on the neuropsychology of hitting a baseball. Nerdy, but essential for the baseball-watching neuro-fan.

Check out the Top 10 80's Robots (We Expected to Exist By Now). Embarrass-your-self-at-work funny for the people who found link 2 interesting.

Darshak Sanghavi takes Jerome Groopman to task in Slate's book club for his focus on the efforts of individuals in improving health care, which has become an inherently systems-based practice. Groopman's been on a handful of NPR segments to blast doctors for being arrogant and tunnelvisioned, but I've struggled to really put my finger on what about Groopman's arguments really bugged me. Sanghavi proves why he gets to write on Slate, and I get to write on Sparkgrass.

And, from the somebody-had-to-do-the-study department, having a gun at home increases the risk for a death by suicide.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

For the med student sequel of Harold and Kumar go to White Castle

Check out Matt (our own Matz) and Kags in Ghana. Matt reads enough Bill Bryson to insure that he's at least familiar with the travelogue genre, with a creative writing degree to boot. Not to say that he's necessarily aiming for his masterpiece under such circumstances, but chances are these guys will make fools of themselves plenty of times.

Matt and Kags will begin residencies in emergency medicine in July, at Brown and UofMichigan, respectively.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Throwing grapes at the Detroit school board

I don't usually watch local news, but we didn't turn from channel 7 after Lost on Wednesday. The first story was some crazy women chucking grapes from the audience at a school board meeting because Detroit schools are hemorrhaging cash, and some unfortunate closings were necessary.DPS police officers arrested

Agnes Hitchcock, leader of the Call 'Em Out Coalition, a local advocacy group known for harsh political comments. As she was being arrested, she was asked what she had thrown, and Hitchcock yelled, "Grapes! I hit her right here," and pointed to her forehead. It was unclear whether Hitchcock was released from custody Wednesday night.

Hayes-Giles said she was struck in the chest and plans to press charges.

"It was hard. It startled me because quite frankly, I didn't know what it was," Hayes-Giles said of the incident. "It was unacceptable behavior. You can disagree with the vote someone takes, but that gives her no right to assault anyone."
Some things don't even need commentary.

Was the Dharma Initiative a UofM psychology project?

I knew there was something fishy about this place.

Exiting the panic room

I've tried to avoid turning Sparkgrass into a basketball blog, as others do that much better, but I'll just state my extreme satisfaction with Billy Gillispie as a super choice to lead the Wildcats helm. He wanted the job as soon as his name was mentioned, and he wins fast. Of course, the latter worries me that a bunch of NCAA violations will pop up, since it's a little unreal that he could turn UTEP and Texas A&M each into strong programs in the twinkle of an eye. But if this guy's for real (and he probably is), we're all in for some fun times. And maybe, just maybe, a Kentucky-Florida rivalry will be restored with the stakes even so much higher.

The Kentucky job is still one of the top 5 in college basketball. But the top 5 jobs in college basketball are no longer so much better than the top 20 jobs in college basketball to expect someone to leave one of those posts. Roy Williams left Kansas for Carolina because he was a Carolina kid at heart, the same reason that Bob Huggins made yet a bigger ass of himself and left KSU for West Virginia. Huggins is a Mountaineer and a douche nozzle at heart, and so he left all of his promises to his #2 recruiting class in the nation to go home. Heck, Ben Howland left a sweet job at Pitt for UCLA not just because the UCLA is a top 5 job, and the Pitt job is a top 25 job, but because he was a UCLA kid at heart.

Billy Donovan wasn't a Wildcat at heart. He was an assistant coach under a former coach, and an assistant coach at the same time as another assistant coach who just got pushed out of his head coach position by the psychotic wing of the Kentucky fanbase. He had a nice link, but growing up in the same conference, he'd had plenty of time for the mystique to weather. Billy Donovan can do no wrong in Florida. He'll pull a Denny Crum or a Bobby Knight. He'll win for a few more years (10-15?), and then spend his twilight years directing a mediocre program. No one will care, because he put Florida on the map. That's special, and good for Billy Donovan. Kentucky should be proud that we had something to do with developing the hottest coach in the nation, even if we can't claim him as our own.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Francis Collins, class act

Apparently, my first year of medical school was the first year in which Francis Collins didn't teach M1s medical genetics at the University of Michigan, so I never got to meet the guy. He was too firmly entrenched as director of the genome project by then, and while I'm sure lecturing me on genetics would be his second greatest achievement, honing his ninja genetics skillz at NIH makes sense too.

Collins is also famous as an evangelical Christian who makes a lot of sense when he talks. There aren't a lot of those on the national stage, and not a lot of them in the scientific community with voices loud enough to be heard.

So, some have asked, doesn't your brain explode? Can you both pursue an understanding of how life works using the tools of genetics and molecular biology, and worship a creator God? Aren't evolution and faith in God incompatible? Can a scientist believe in miracles like the resurrection?

Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers. Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.
This is a guy who is obviously interested in cutting out the bullshit. I'd like to think that it's the bullshit, and not religion itself, that scares away intellectuals and scientists.

As an almost formal rule, I don't really talk about my personal religious beliefs with anyone nowadays. I hadn't really thought about that fact, but the last time I can remember even trying to have a discussion of what I believed was during my first year of medical school.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

UofMichigan Sit-In for sweatshop labor

Back in my freshman year of college at the University of Kentucky, friends of mine holed themselves up in the administration building to protest the use of sweatshop labor by university vendors.

Now, there are kids at UofM doing the same thing.

I'm no economist (even if I sometimes play one in my fantasy life), and I'm ambivalent at best nowadays about globalization (which is a dramatic shift from my extreme anti-globalization views held as recently as just the past few years). The globalization debate is a fertile one, and one in which both sides can make extremely compelling arguments that their policy preferences best serve the interests of the citizens of the world, rich and poor, at least in a long haul. So, I guess I'm not de facto supporting the fact that these motivated kids are anti-globalization, but I will support their willingness to stick out their necks because they think the world can be a better and more equal place. Their message is that, in the globalization debate, we do have to consider the holistic impact of economic policy on both human dignity and the environment. Compelling arguments, albeit slightly counterintuitive ones, assure that both human dignity and the environment will eventually benefit from globalization, even if some short term lapses appear to occur. Those arguments might also be effective only in a theoretical universe, and may fall apart when weasel corporations are involved. Lots of mights and maybes, and I'm just not able to commit to any of them.

But, props to the kids at the UofM Sit-In. They're not doing anything wrong, and they just might be doing something right.

UPDATE: Surprise! They got arrested, as seems to happen at these things. At least they didn't get manhandled, or at least it wasn't reported as such.