Cancer Blog

Friday, October 31, 2003

stupidity bias at CNN

Now that there is no longer any exciting footage of our bombers' nighttime raids on Baghdad, I hardly ever find the time to watch CNN. On those rare occasions when I do, such as when I'm waiting for a doctor in a CNNified waiting room, or flipping around during the commercial break of a more interesting program at home, I am sometimes shocked by the economically nonsensical programming that assaults my senses. Of particular offense is Lou Dobbs' ongoing feature, "Exporting America". In an article in Reason, Julian Sanchez hits the nail on the head -- or, more precisely, Lou Dobbs on the head. Here is the introduction from "Lou's Blues; Lou Dobbs and the New Merchantilism":
Columbia University economist Jagdish Baghwati once quipped that defenders of free trade have "no prizes or surprises." "No prizes" because the basic case for free trade is in many ways the same as that made in the time of Adam Smith and David Ricardo—not the sort of innovative technical work that garners Nobels. "No surprises" because it often seems as though free traders are trapped in a public policy version of Groundhog Day, forced to refute the same fallacious arguments over and over again, decade after decade.

Throughout the 1990s, it looked as though, perhaps, the debate had finally been resolved in favor of open markets and an ever more global economy. In 1992, after all, both major party candidates vowed to champion the North American Free Trade Agreement. Even now, people around the world report positive attitudes toward trade, and little regard for the warning cries of the giant-puppets-and-black-masks antiglobalization crowd.

Ah, but what a difference a decade makes. The economic party in America is decidedly over for the moment. It's no longer just blue-collar workers but also affluent tech professionals who increasingly are being forced to face competition on a global labor market. At a time when nationalist "us versus them" thinking is back in vogue, the temptation is strong to find someone—ideally brown people with funny accents—to carry the blame for our economic woes.

One of the loudest spokesmen for this emerging xenophobic populism has been Lou Dobbs, host of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight. In recent months, Dobbs has devoted large chunks of his daily program to investigative series with such titles as "Exporting America" and "A Crowded Nation." The persistent message of these reports is that Americans are being harmed by foreign high tech workers, undocumented laborers (a phrase that sends Dobbs into apoplexy) and cheap overseas manufacturing. ...
Read the whole thing and treat yourself to a very sane bashing of a prominent news anchor. Of course, CNN is by far the lesser of the two evils among the leading cable news networks -- with Murdoch's propaganda machine, Fox News, far ahead in the 'let's destroy our nation' department -- but it would do well to cut the xenophobia and bad economics.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

mixed signals

I'm in the process of toning down my expectations regarding my progress with this clinical trial. The main reason for this is a new tumor that I discovered last month in my right groin. The tumor, about one inch in diameter, is located in the lymph nodes that drain the right leg. I did not get too worked up about this at the time, because it could have been there for quite a while (well before I started this trial in late August) without me noticing it. But it is always unsettling to find a new tumor. There are six main sets of lymph nodes that are often sites for tumors: one on each side of the neck, the armpits, and the two groin areas. I now have disease in three of them: the right side of the neck, the left armpit (axilla), and the right groin. As a direct threat to my health, this new tumor is no big deal. But it seems to have slightly increased in size over the past month and has become ever-so-slightly painful. If it were to get ridiculously big and painful, they could remove it by surgery, but we would prefer to kill it chemically. The problem is that it exists and is perhaps growing.

But there is some good news. My appetite continues to improve and my stomach/GI tract is generally in pretty good shape. The tumor in my neck has definitely shrunk a little bit, and the disease in the left axilla has shrunk a lot. Nevertheless, with this new tumor growing in spite of it all, there is less reason for optimism. The next round of CT scans, to be done in early December, will be extremely important.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

lemon watch

Last month I posted on the worthlessness of my automobile. A little bit later, I added a comment saying that the problem turned out to be trivial and that it was my fault. As it turns out, the problem was both non-trivial and not my fault. As Tom had suggested in a comment, the problem was indeed the starter, which had to be replaced. In the interim period between when the problem resurfaced and before it was fixed (two weeks or so), I had to resort to a variation of Tom's advice on starting the car. Since I was often alone, and having a friend ping on the starter for me was not an option, I resorted to jostling around in the engine and even rocking the car back and forth vigorously. Fortunately, after enough fuss, the car eventually started on each occasion. Now that I have a brand spanking new starter in my car, I have lost the will to plunge into the lemons market. Maybe I should, as a hobby, park my fully-insured lemon in high-crime neighborhoods... and leave the doors unlocked... and the keys in the ignition... with the engine running...

Monday, October 27, 2003

recently read: Proust

Today I finished A L'ombre des Jeunes Filles en Fleurs, which is usually translated as (somewhat oddly in my opinion) Within a Budding Grove, the second of seven (!) volumes in Marcel Proust's masterpiece, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In search of lost time). Oui, je l'ai lu en francais. I have to admit it was tough going, especially since my French was pretty rusty and Proust's is about the most difficult French that you can find (or at least that I've come across). Now my French is significantly less rusty.

I had wanted to post a couple passages from the book, but since I only had the French version and I didn't feel up to translating the passages myself, I wasn't sure what to do. It turns out that this is a perfect opportunity to use Amazon's fantastic new text search feature. So I go to Amazon, find the book, search the text for "kaleidoscope"... and, voila! Oops, they won't let me copy and paste. I'll have to type it in:
In the days of my early childhood, everything that pertained to conservative society was worldly, and no respectable salon would ever have opened its doors to a Republican. The people who lived in such an atmosphere imagined that the impossibility of ever inviting an "opportunist"--still, more a "horrid radical"-- was something that would endure forever, like oil-lamps and horse-drawn omnibuses. But, like a kaleidoscope which is every now and then given a turn, society arranges successively in different orders elements which one would have supposed immutable, and composes a new pattern. Before I had made my first Communion, right-minded ladies had had the stupefying experience of meeting an elegant Jewess while paying a social call. These new arrangements of the kaleidoscope are produced by what a philosopher would call a "change of criterion." The Dreyfus case brought about another, at a period rather later than that in which I began to go to Mme Swann's, and the kaleidoscope once more reversed its coloured lozenges. Everything Jewish, even the elegant lady herself, went down, and various obscure nationalists rose to take its place. The most brilliant salon in Paris was that of an ultra-Catholic Austrian prince. If instead of the Dreyfus case there had come a war with Germany, the pattern of the kaleidoscope would have taken a turn in the other direction. The Jews having shown, to the general astonishment, that they were patriots, would have kept their position, and no one would any longer have cared to go, or even to admit that he had ever gone any longer to the Austrian prince's.
This is heavily copyrighted material so I will carefully cite the source: Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust, C.K. Scott Moncrieff (translator), Richard Howard (introduction), Modern Library (November, 1998). Okay, that turned out to require a little more work than I first thought, but there it is. In this volume, the young narrator begins to taste the first sweet but chaste pleasures of female company. Proust truly had the ability to, as Blake put it, "see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower" (thanks again, Amazon search feature). On to volume 3!

Sunday, October 26, 2003

waxing evangelical

In a recent post (know thy enemy, October 9), I claimed that evangelical Christians make up "almost half" of the U.S. population. A friend rightly called me on this and suggested that the figure was too high. After some light Googling, I was not able to come up with the correct number, but I was convinced that "almost half" is, thankfully, too high.

In today's NY Times there is an article discussing the unprecedented influence of evangelical Christians in the White House and how they have been able to direct the president's attention to certain human rights issues abroad. Accompanying the article is a chart showing the breakdown of the evangelical vote in the 2000 election and also the percent of total voters who are evangelical. 40% of those who voted for Bush are evangelical versus 12% of Gore voters, while 26% of total voters are evangelical. So, indeed, things aren't as bad as I previously thought.

However, if you really want to be terrified, read Joan Didion's article in the NY Review of Books, 'Mr. Bush and the Divine'. The book ostensibly reviewed is the latest volume in the 'Left Behind' series, Armageddon: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins. (Recently Kevin Drum linked to an amusing review of the first three pages of the first volume of 'Left Behind' by The Slacktivist.) Didion devotes the first part of her article to the 'Left Behind' series and an explanation of the religious and political message behind it. She then explores Bush's own intertanglings with fundamentalist Christianity and hints at hypocrisy (gasp!) on the part of His Mightiness. But then she makes an important point:
There is a reason we do not dwell on such points, and the reason is this: the question they raise, that of "sincerity," makes no substantive difference. Either of the two possible answers to the question --the politician who talks the talk of the true believers is himself a believer, or the politician is merely an astute operator of the electoral process-- will produce, for the rest of us, the same end result. In either case, believer or operator, the politician will be called upon to display the same stubborn certainty on any issue presented to him. In either case, committed fundamentalist Christian or pursuer of the fundamentalist Christian vote, the politician will be called upon to consign the country to the same absolutist scenarios.
It has rankled me to hear Christians criticize Bush by saying that he's not really a Christian, and a real Christian wouldn't behave this way, etc. Frankly, I would prefer a cynical Bush to a Bush who sincerely believes that he was chosen by God to lead the U.S. in an endtime struggle against the Antichrist. The really dangerous types are often not the hypocrites, whose hidden agenda is usually grounded in reality, but the fanatics, the true believers; those who, after acquiring power, try to impose their fantasy world on the rest of us.

It is troubling to see how the non-Religious Right tolerates the Religious Right in the United States. If you will indulge my outdated one-dimensional political spectrum for a moment, the Center-to-Left has, for the most part, purged itself of the most dangerous elements of its constituency. No Democratic candidate who panders to Marxists and Communists is remotely electable. The closest the Left comes is Gephardt and his unions, but nobody seriously thinks he's going anywhere. On the Right, however, the Republican party rose to power precisely by embracing a fringe group every bit as radical as the applied Marxists: the Religious Right. Why the asymmetry? Well, first of all, the applied Marxists already had their chance to run things in the Soviet Union and China, and the incredible disasters that resulted contrasted markedly with the huge successes of liberal, capitalist democracies in the West. The Religious Right has not yet had their chance to ruin things. (As a student of history, I would argue that the Dark Ages in Europe is argument enough against Christian theocracy). Secondly, religion, until recently, was largely a private affair. The Republicans, perhaps desperate, worked to change this. From Didion's article:
We have come to recognize the rhetorical signals the President sends to evangelicals, a constituency which, since its turn toward political action in the 1970s and with the encouragement of those Republicans who would use it, has itself become the party's plague of brimstone-breathing horses.
It's fine to believe crazy things, as long as you don't have access to the world's most powerful military. By redefining itself in political, instead of just religious, terms, the Religious Right has become just as dangerous as Marxism was in the past.

Is it really going to take a disaster on the scale of Communism for Americans to learn that radical ideologies are truly dangerous? Bush is perhaps already well on the way to teaching us the hard lessons of what happens when you elect someone with a dogmatic world view. Let's hope that we're quick learners and throw him out in '04.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Putin's power play

I'm no fan of ruthless billionaire oligarchs, but my instincts tell me that this (NY Times) is not good for Russia:
Russia's richest man, the oil baron Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, was seized at gunpoint on Saturday by government security agents and jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

The aggressive move against Mr. Khodorkovsky, 40, heightens longstanding tensions between the government of President Vladimir V. Putin and Russia's superrich oligarchs, some of whom have fled the country.
It must be nice to be able to lock up those who threaten your power. Will Russia ever be able to move away from its authoritarian past? It's looking more and more like Putin is not the man for the job.

Friday, October 24, 2003

quality over celebrity

Continuing his noble campaign to subvert the dominant internet link hierarchy, Brad DeLong linked to this very site yesterday. For those of you who came to this 'good but lesser-known' weblog and are wondering what it's all about, here are a few potentially asked questions:

Who are you? I am 26 years old and I have Stage IV metastatic melanoma. I am currently on medical leave from graduate studies in economics at Washington University in St. Louis (main interests: microeconomic theory, information economics, game theory, etc.; if you have a stray thesis topic, I'm always open to suggestions). If you are interested in how exactly my illness unfolded, I posted a chronology of my disease on July 27. I apologize for the extremely imprecise permalinks that only link to the monthly archive page.

Why Cancer Blog? A more accurate name for this weblog would be: 'Living with metastatic melanoma and occasionally ranting about politics and economics', but the actual name, Cancer Blog, is an oblique reference to Solzhenitsyn's novel Cancer Ward. When I was 19 years old and browsing in a bookstore, I came across this book and, for whatever reason, the stark, powerful title just sank into me. The primary purpose of this weblog is to communicate information about what's going on with my health to out-of-town friends and family, but, of course, I don't limit myself to this sometimes depressing topic. My hope is that my disease will become less and less of an issue as I improve with time. Nevertheless, at 2 1/2 years and counting, melanoma and cancer have become, and will always be, a big part of who I am; for better or worse. This site is not intended to be a comprehensive resource for those with melanoma or, God forbid, cancer in general. The best site I know of for melanoma patients is the Melanoma Patients' Information Page. This site is merely my personal weblog.

What are you on now? I take a lot of drugs. Currently I am enrolled in a Phase II clinical trial at UPenn which involves the chemotherapy drugs Taxol and Carboplatin and a new mutation inhibiting pill. If you want more information, you can browse through the August archive where I posted repeatedly on the specifics of the trial. So far so good with this one. The nadir of my illness was in late August right before I started this trial. Since then, I have consistently improved.

Thanks for visiting; feedback is always appreciated.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Kinsley doesn't like Bush

Michael Kinsley does not like Bush. In Slate today he carefully spells out one of the reasons why: Bush's selling of his stem-cell research policy.
... Furthermore, not a single embryo dies because of stem-cell research, which simply uses a tiny fraction of the embryos that live and die as a routine part of procedures at fertility clinics. And actual stem-cell therapy for real patients, if it is allowed to develop, will not even need these surplus embryos. Once a usable line is developed from an embryo, the cells for treatment can be developed in a laboratory.

None of this matters if you believe that a microscopic embryo is a human being with the same human rights as you and me. George W. Bush claims to believe that, and you have to believe something like that to justify your opposition to stem-cell research. But Bush cannot possibly believe that embryos are full human beings, or he would surely oppose modern fertility procedures that create and destroy many embryos for each baby they bring into the world. Bush does not oppose modern fertility treatments. He even praised them in his anti-stem-cell speech.

It's not a complicated point. If stem-cell research is morally questionable, the procedures used in fertility clinics are worse. You cannot logically outlaw the one and praise the other. And surely logical coherence is a measure of moral sincerity.

If he's got both his facts and his logic wrong—and he has—Bush's alleged moral anguish on this subject is unimpressive. In fact, it is insulting to the people (including me) whose lives could be saved or redeemed by the medical breakthroughs Bush's stem-cell policy is preventing.

This is not a policy disagreement. Or rather, it is not only a policy disagreement. If the president is not a complete moron—and he probably is not—he is a hardened cynic, staging moral anguish he does not feel, pandering to people he cannot possibly agree with, and sacrificing the future of many American citizens for short-term political advantage.

Is that a good enough reason to dislike him personally?
Well, I'm convinced. I certainly dislike our president personally and, if it is possible, even more so after reading Kinsley's article. Do read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


I had a very smooth trip to Philly. My doctor had nothing unexpected to say about the ct scans, although he would have liked to have seen the August 1 scans as well. At one time they did have them, but they were the old tech original films which must have been sent back to Vanderbilt after some period of time, as required by the Vanderbilt film library. Next time I will have the Vandy film library burn as many sets of scans on the disk as possible. One complication that I've been experiencing with my low platelet counts is that I'm only supplied with three weeks of the Bayer pill, so if I have to wait another week before receiving chemo -- as has been the case these last two rounds -- I'm not taking anything at all. This problem may be solved shortly. My doctor informed me that they are working through the FDA paperwork required to allow a fourth week of pills to be administered if the patient is unable to proceed with chemotherapy after three weeks.

On a lighter note, I experienced, and satisfied, the first 'Lucky Dog' craving of my life yesterday at Baltimore's airport. 'Lucky Dog' hot dog carts are eerily ubiquitous in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Maybe it was the combination of other, less appetizing, smells, maybe I was just never that hungry when visiting the French Quarter, or maybe it's because I had read Confederacy of Dunces, but for some reason, I never, during 2 1/2 years of living in New Orleans, tried a 'Lucky Dog'. Yesterday, fresh off my chemo infusion and looking for food, lo and behold! What did I spy parked forlornly next to the glittering food court like a culinary outcast, but an authentic New Orleans 'Lucky Dog' cart. Since there was no line, I marched smartly up to the attentive young 'Lucky Dog' vender and ordered a 'Creole Sausage' hot dog -- described as 'spicy, very hot' -- and topped it off with onions and mustard. It had to be the worst hot dog-like substance I've ever consumed. They apparently substituted 'very hot' for flavor and the result was predictably bad. At least the mustard was okay. The real triumph, from a personal standpoint, was that my stomach and gastro-intestinal tract rose to the challenge and bravely digested the 'Lucky Dog' into the oblivion which is its proper home.

Monday, October 20, 2003

starting round three

The platelet count was fine this morning, 223,000, so I'll be flying up to Baltimore and taking the train to Philadelphia this afternoon and evening. Hasta manana.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Japanese vending machines

In Slate today, Seth Stevenson, an American journalist who stayed in Japan, writes about that country's inexplicable obsession with cartoons. Further on in the piece he reviews some Japanese animated porn:
Even in the regular, non-cartoon soft-core that shows up on Tokyo cable at night (think Cinemax), there is a whole lot of non-consensual sex going on. Highly non-consensual. Much female flailing, kicking, and high-pitched shrieking, all to no avail. The default situation is a man subjecting a woman to treatment she does not want or like, while the man remains utterly calm and appears not even to derive any pleasure from the act. Seems like some power/control issues going on. Especially when you consider the dream girl is always tied up, a very young schoolgirl, animated, or often all three. Icky.
This reminded me of a recent conversation I had in St. Louis. A friend of mine told me that his friend, who had recently traveled to Japan, had observed there vending machines that sold used panties. At the time, I found this hard to believe. A little Googling on my part confirmed his account. First, I found this site which contains, along with several Japanese vending oddities (my favorite is the arcade game where you try to catch a live lobster), the following clip from the Economist (10/18/1993):
Police in Japan are trying to curb an unsavoury trade. In early September, three business men stocked around 90 vending machines in outer Tokyo with used underwear "guaranteed to have been worn by a Japanese schoolgirl." Each garment sells for about $29.

After searching the rule books, the police have finally charged the three entrepreneurs with violating the Antique Dealings Law, which stipulates that dealers need a license. Used panties as antiques? The police say that some of the underwear was bought from second hand dealers. The trio may also be charged with swindling, if it can be shown that the panties on sale had not really been worn by female students.
The police apparently have not been entirely successful. This site has more pictures of Japanese vending machines including, yes, if you scroll to the bottom of the page, one that sells used schoolgirl panties. Japan must be a very strange place.

Monday, October 13, 2003

sigh... not even close

The platelet count this morning was a dismal 62,000, so no chemo for me. If it had been above 100,000, I would have flown up to Philadelphia this afternoon, but as it is, I will have to wait until the counts improve. I had kind of expected this; since the platelets were low after the first round, one would expect them to be even lower at the same point after the second round. Maybe next week.

Friday, October 10, 2003

scan results

I'm a little giddy right now; not because of great results from the ct scans, but because of information overload. I went to Vanderbilt this morning for my blood test and also to pick up the films for the ct scans from the hospital's film library. I wasn't sure how they would do the films. In the past, they would give you a large sealed envelope containing the films with 'Do Not Bend' and 'X-Ray Films' printed all over. Instead, the librarian simply burned a CD for me, and that was it. With the old method, even if you broke the seal and looked at the films yourself, you wouldn't be able to glean much information from them -- unless you're a medical doctor. But with the new method, viewing the images -- and more importantly, the report -- is as easy as putting a CD in your desktop.

So, after arriving home from the hospital, I couldn't resist checking out the CD myself. (No special software is needed, it's all there on the disk.) First, I looked at the images, not that I could really make sense of them. On the left side of the screen is the torso of a very skinny guy (me), and on the right side is a slice of the anatomy. By clicking on an arrow, I can view other slices moving down my body. That's all a ct scan is -- images of slices of your body taken at regular intervals, 5 mm in this case. Upon close inspection, I was able to recognize the tumor in my lower back -- since it is kind of conspicuous, lying between the spine and the skin. I was also able to recognize the spotty tumors in my liver, since this was something I had been shown before. Then I went to the report.

After each ct scan, a trained radiologist analyzes it and compares it to the previous ct scan. They then write up a short report, which, often times, is all the doctor looks at. This was the first time I had ever seen the report myself, or the complete set of images for that matter; on every previous occasion, the information had been filtered through a physician. So what are the results? First of all, there are no new tumors anywhere since August 1. Good news. All of the action is in my abdomen and pelvis (aside from the left axilla, which the scans weren't able to capture, and my neck). The stuff in the liver is relatively unchanged since August 1. The biggest lesion there is 1.3 cm in diameter. This is good news. A lesion in my lower back (but not the one near the spine) has increased from 1.8 x 3.2 to 3.4 x 4.0 cm. Bad news; but again, there's no reason to believe that it grew after August 26. There are two tumors in the area of the stomach/bowel. These are the bastards that really caused me problems back in August. One is unchanged at 6.4 x 4.4 cm (this is the biggest tumor, aside from the one in my neck, which is about the same size), and the other has shrunk from 2.4 x 1.8 to 1.5 x 1.7 cm. This is really good news, and explains why I'm feeling so much better. Recall that my stomach wasn't in that bad of shape August 1, so both tumors probably did a lot of growing from the 1st to the 26th, and so they must have done a lot of shrinkin' since then to get back to where they were August 1, and even smaller in the one case. I hope that makes sense. The other tumor mentioned is the one in the lower back that I saw on the image. It has changed in size from 2.4 x 1.7 to 2.1 x 3.0 cm. Nothing definitive here; this was a tumor that I felt grow a lot in August.

Whew... Overall, good results; results consistent with the way I've been feeling. My hunch is that if scans had been done August 25, then we would have seen uniform stability or shrinkage. The next round of scans will be much more revealing. It is a little amazing to get these results yourself -- to see what the doctor sees -- without anyone acting as an intermediary. Frankly, I prefer it. I would rather get the news, good or bad, in the comfort and privacy of my own (or parent's) home rather than go through the awkward, sometimes nerve-racking, process of hearing about it from a doctor. But for other patients this might not be the case. I suspect that most patients wouldn't be able to make sense of it on their own and would need a doctor to interpret the results for them. In any event, this is probably how I will learn the results of my ct scans for the foreseeable future. That's okay by me.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

safer, smarter, more secure

You can check out the new $20 bill here. The change, in my opinion, is not as dramatic as the last one that was made, although I guess the adding of any color, however bland, to the 'greenback' is revolutionary. Too bad nobody will be using hard cash in ten years (I don't plan to at least).

know thy enemy

"What's happened to the Republican party? They used to just be the party of rich people." So asks the mother of Kevin Drum. A very good question indeed. Do read Kevin's chilling post on where the Republican Party is headed, and where it wants to take America. It's all there in the Texas Republican Party Platform. Theocracy anyone?

I would like to add that this is not just the platform for the Texas Republican Party, what head-in-the-sand moderate Republicans of the California type would call an unimportant fringe group (despite the power of WBush and Delay), but also that of practically every Republican in the South. The most dangerous parts of the platform emanate from the evangelical wing of the Party. Evangelical Christians make up almost half of the US population and dominate the South. Moderate Republicans -- Californians, New Yorkers, the big money guys -- need to wake up and realize that the dumb masses that they've been using to win elections are in danger of taking over, and that that would decidedly not be in anyone's best interest.

Update: Kevin Drum has another very good post in the same vein.

Nobel Pope prize?

Nobel committee, if you are out there, hear my prayer: please don't give the Pope the Nobel peace prize. My reasons? The Church continues to spread untold misery in the world by pushing its barbaric view of human sexuality. In the United States, for decades sexual predators disguised as priests have preyed on many an innocent youth while the Church hierarchy pretended not to notice. It is only because of the liberal media that this outrage was exposed; God knows, the Catholic Church would prefer that their dirty little secret was still that, a secret.

And then there is the question of Africa and Aids. Any decent person has to be outraged by the following article from The Guardian:
The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk.

The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to the HIV virus.

A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are untrue.

The church's claims are revealed in a BBC1 Panorama programme, Sex and the Holy City, to be broadcast on Sunday. The president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, told the programme: "The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom.

"These margins of uncertainty... should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger."

The WHO has condemned the Vatican's views, saying: "These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million."

The organisation says "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90%. There may be breakage or slippage of condoms - but not, the WHO says, holes through which the virus can pass .

Scientific research by a group including the US National Institutes of Health and the WHO found "intact condoms... are essentially impermeable to particles the size of STD pathogens including the smallest sexually transmitted virus... condoms provide a highly effective barrier to transmission of particles of similar size to those of the smallest STD viruses".

The Vatican's Cardinal Trujillo said: "They are wrong about that... this is an easily recognisable fact."

The church opposes any kind of contraception because it claims it breaks the link between sex and procreation - a position Pope John Paul II has fought to defend.

In Kenya - where an estimated 20% of people have the HIV virus - the church condemns condoms for promoting promiscuity and repeats the claim about permeability. The archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Nzeki, said: "Aids... has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms."

Sex and the Holy City includes a Catholic nun advising her HIV-infected choirmaster against using condoms with his wife because "the virus can pass through".

In Lwak, near Lake Victoria, the director of an Aids testing centre says he cannot distribute condoms because of church opposition. Gordon Wambi told the programme: "Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids."

Panorama found the claims about permeable condoms repeated by Catholics as far apart as Asia and Latin America.
Is the leader of an organization that spreads such dangerous lies worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize? Are there not millions of decent, courageous, generous yet clear-headed individuals out there in the world more worthy? Please, Nobel committee, if you resist the political pressure this one time, the Pope will most likely pass away before next October and you will never again have to worry about feeling obligated to award the prize to the head of the Catholic Church.

Update: Bravo! Bravo! The Nobel Committee heard my prayer and awarded this year's Peace Prize to the Iranian, Shirin Ebadi. From the press release:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2003 to Shirin Ebadi for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children.

As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran, and far beyond its borders. She has stood up as a sound professional, a courageous person, and has never heeded the threats to her own safety.
A more unPope-like individual, you will not find. Well done, Nobel Committee. See you next year.

the market's social welfare function

It's worth getting a masters in economics just to be able to fully appreciate this. DeLong did cunningly slip in a non-trivial assumption to ease his analysis. Can you find it? For the answer, see Keith's comment (the 11th comment). In my opinion, it doesn't really diminish the force of DeLong's argument.

Update: DeLong has a followup post and provides a link to a proof of his claim that:
the market's social welfare function weights everybody by the inverse of their marginal utility of wealth--and hence (if you are willing to grant that your marginal utility of wealth is a lot less than that of a Bengali peasant) you receive a much higher weight in the market system's implicit preferences than the guy behind the water buffalo in the Ganges delta[.]
Very interesting stuff...

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

This week's New Yorker

This week's New Yorker is chock full of interesting stuff, beginning with the very amusing cover. The one absolute must read is Tad Friend's Letter from California: "Jumpers; The Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge". Not only is the Golden Gate one of the most spectacular structures in the world, it is also an irresistible temptation to the suicidal. The article is available free online for the print subscription-challenged. Another possible must read, depending on your taste, is a profile of Senator Clinton of New York (print only). I also thoroughly enjoyed an article on the Putin era in Russia, but I admit that I am abnormally interested in all things Russian (also print only). The New Yorker bounced back in grand fashion after last week's bland 'literary' issue. Come to think of it, I usually don't much care for the theme issues in general.

The point of this post is to share the following article from the New Yorker's Talk of the Town section about a ninety year old psychologist. I do this not only because I find the guy's one-liners to be quite funny (I put some of them in bold), but also because I discovered that I share something of his philosophy of life. Here it is, unabridged:
The second-most-influential psychotherapist of the twentieth century, by the reckoning of the American Psychological Association, turned ninety last month. His name is Albert Ellis, and, in case you didn’t know, he is the founder of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, or rebt, and the author of more than seventy books, including “Sex Without Guilt,” “Sex and the Liberated Man,” “The Case for Promiscuity,” and “How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything—Yes, Anything!” Ellis started out as a psychoanalyst, in 1947, but soon decided that exploring his patients’ childhood traumas had “nothing to do with the price of spinach.” By the mid-fifties, he had devised his own method, based on the premise, set forth by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, that people are disturbed not by what happens to them but by their view of what happens to them, and also on his personal observation that, as he said the other day, “all humans are out of their fucking minds—every single one of them.”

About two hundred humans turned up at the Albert Ellis Institute, whose headquarters are in a six-story town house on East Sixty-fifth Street, to celebrate the founder’s birth with a day of workshops and symposiums, followed by a catered shindig. Ellis is thin and birdlike, with a prominent nose, and he wears large, black-framed glasses. His voice is high and nasal, and when he gets excited it swoops from a goosey honk to a gullish screech. A gastrointestinal infection almost killed him last year, but now he seemed in fine form. Throughout the day, he held forth on a range of topics, from tolerance (“I don’t damn any person, including Stalin, Hitler, and President Bush”) to self-esteem (“the worst sickness known to man or woman, because it says, ‘I did well, therefore I am good,’ which means that when I do badly—back to shithood for me”) and aging (“None of us can change the fact that we’re going to get older and die—too fucking bad”).

Ellis spoke about the “bad things” that happened to him during his childhood, in the Bronx, and about how they led to his early experiments in rational thinking. During a ten-month hospitalization for nephritis, which he got when he was four and a half, he eased his anxiety and loneliness by telling himself, “If I die, I die—fuck it—it’s not the end of the world.” When he was five, his parents found him naked with their neighbors’ five-year-old daughter, playing a clever game with a funnel and a bottle of milk. “That was my first great heterosexual love—a little beauty, a blond bombshell,” Ellis said. “But then her parents moved away and wouldn’t even tell us where they were moving. So, for a while, I was a very depressed child. But I was still able to use the coping statement ‘There will be other women, and I can always have good times with them.’” At nineteen, Ellis tried an experiment to conquer his fear of rejection: he hung around the Bronx Botanical Garden, and, whenever he saw a girl on her own, forced himself to start a conversation. “I got to be one of the best picker-uppers of women in the United States, and finally started making it with them, a lot,” he said.

That evening, shrinks drank white wine, talked shop, and spoke about Ellis’s contributions to the profession. The consensus was that his ideas, and his technique of confronting clients with their irrational thoughts, gave birth to the cognitive-behavioral approach that dominates psychotherapy today. “He recognized that we’re all fallible, which is something I try to communicate to my clients,” a psychologist named Marjy Ehmer said. “Though I don’t think it’s necessary to tell them that they’re ‘fucking’ fallible.”

Up in his office, Ellis, dressed in a burgundy silk shirt, gray pants, and thin black socks, took his ease, pashalike, in a leather recliner, and received well-wishers. His assistant, Debbie Joffe, an energetic blond research fellow from Australia, repeated whatever anyone said into a wireless amplifier that beamed directly to Ellis’s hearing aid. One woman told him that he should learn how to read lips. Someone else mentioned that, in the Off Broadway play “Trumbo,” he is referred to as “the greatest humanitarian since Gandhi.” In both cases, Ellis smiled and said, “Could be.” Nicole Kidman was there, of course, in a low-cut black number and sling-back heels. She had come with her father, Tony, who is an Ellis disciple. “You look wonderful,” Kidman said.

“She says you look wonderful, Al,” Debbie said slowly, in a loud voice.

“Thanks—you look O.K., too,” Ellis said.

Later, with a white scarf that had been blessed by the Dalai Lama draped around his neck, Ellis listened to congratulatory messages from Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer, and the Clintons, among others. Someone read an e-mail from President Bush, then handed the printout to Ellis, who glanced at it and let it drop to the floor. There were toasts, too. Janet Wolfe, who lived with Ellis in an open relationship for thirty-seven years (she moved out last year), called him a “closet mensch.”

Since nearly dying last year, Ellis has written two books, and he has been collecting “thousands of articles about how stupid people are” as research for a third, tentatively titled “A History of the Dark Ages: The Twenty-first Century.” He continues to refuse to make himself miserable about anything—yes, anything. He would like to have a romantic partner, and would prefer that other therapists not pass off his ideas as their own, but, he said, “I don’t get angry or upset or depressed about it. That’s the human condition—too damn bad.” Ellis bears no grudge toward the man who beat him out for the top spot on the A.P.A.’s influential-psychotherapist list (that would be Carl Rogers), but he had no kind words for the “bigot” who came in third. “Freud was out of his fucking mind,” Ellis said. “He was as nutty as could be.”

— Adam Green
For some reason, this piece warmed my heart. I usually bristle at being called a stoic because the word brings to mind a certain numbness to the world, or worse, a refusal to acknowledge facts because they are unpleasant. During my illness, I'm sure that others have perceived, and perhaps admired, my 'stoicism' amidst adversity. If I have succeeded in not letting myself go any crazier than I was before all this started, it is because of a learned wisdom, not unlike that of Albert Ellis: a humbling of one's self to the point where the phrase "If I die, I die--fuck it--it's not the end of the world" not only makes perfect sense, but brings immeasurable comfort.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

And the rumored winners are...

The announcement won't be released for another 12 hours, but Brad DeLong has just posted the rumored winners of the 2003 Nobel Prize in economics: Jagdish Bhagwati and Paul Krugman for work on international trade.

If true, wow, wow, and wow. Krugman is barely fifty years old (or not even? I'm not sure). And of course, the big story with all this is that William Barnett of the University of Kansas will have to wait at least another year before receiving his proper recognition.

Seriously though, maybe it's because Bhagwati is much older and Krugman and Bhagwati were a package. Whatever the story behind Krugman's precocious Nobel, expect his political voice to gain a helluva lot of credibility, and also expect the militant right in the U.S. to start screaming conspiracy and try to discredit the Nobel committee by labeling the decision as politically motivated (did Hans Blix have any input on this?).

As for me, I wholeheartedly applaud the decision. I will be intensely disappointed tomorrow morning if the rumor proves to be false, like a child for whom Santa did not come on Christmas morn. At the very least, this should be a good test of the quality of DeLong's inside information.

Update: And the winners are... Robert Engle from NYU and Clive Granger from UC San Diego for contributions to time series econometrics. Yuck... I suppose it's important, but not to my taste. Engle is responsible for ARCH, which I have heard of, and Granger is responsible for cointegration, which I have also heard of. So much for the rumor mill; those Swedes must run a tight ship.

scans today

I'm going in to Vanderbilt Hospital for ct scans today; I just downed the first of two barium smoothies. I won't know the results until I see my doctor next Tuesday in Philly -- platelet permitting. Since I was last scanned August 1 and my treatment in Philadelphia didn't begin until August 26, I would not expect anything definitive from these scans one way or the other. There was a lot of growth in the tumors during August. The next set of scans, roughly six weeks from now, should give us a much clearer picture of the treatment's efficacy.

Of course I don't need fancy ct scans to tell me that I'm in a lot better shape than I was six weeks ago. There are three tumor areas that I can monitor myself: the neck, the lower back, and the left axilla (armpit). The tumor in the lower back has not grown since late August, or at least not changed enough for me to say; the tumor in the neck has definitely not grown, and I think it has changed in shape and perhaps shrunk a bit; the disease in the left axilla has definitely shrunken somewhat. Best of all, I feel a lot better, which means that the internal disease that I can't monitor has improved. All in all, I couldn't have asked for better results after only two rounds of treatment.

This past weekend I drove up to St. Louis for the first time since late July. It was great to see friends, and even kind of great to see the city again. If I continue improving at the current rate, I should be able to return for the spring semester.


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