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Cancer Blog

Monday, June 30, 2003


Digesting

The good news from last Thursday's appointment means that we will stick with the Temodar (light chemo) for at least two more cycles. My next cycle begins this Saturday, July 5. During the appointment last Thursday, my doctor showed me before and after snapshots of my liver: on the 'before' picture there were dark blotches scattered about, some small, some ominously large; the 'after' picture was much different -- the big blotches were smaller and some of the smaller ones had disappeared altogether. This is certainly very good, but one thing that I had not known was just how bad off I was two months ago when the 'before' pictures were taken. At the time my doctor did not show me the slides, he just mentioned that some new disease had appeared in the liver and that we should start the chemo immediately.

It also seems that while the Temodar is working, it is not working uniformly well. The tumors in the liver have shrunk, but the other disease (mainly just under the skin) has not changed that much. Why is this? Who knows. In the words of my doctor: "It just shows how little we know about this disease". Usually the subcutaneous disease is more responsive to drugs like Temodar than the deeper disease, but if you have to choose which disease to get rid of, it's definitely the deep stuff. That's what kills you, the rest just pisses you off.

Thursday, June 26, 2003


And the Results Are In...

Shocking results from the ct scans: the tumors in the liver have shrunk dramatically in the past two months. Yes, it's true. My doctor asked if he could show the scans to others; of course I said yes -- I'm damned proud of those hard earned ct scans. I should be elated, and I am, but right now I'm just tired, physically and emotionally. The mysterious pain (which has mutated and migrated to the abdomen) turned out to be a pussy cat. I can now make plans with a high degree of confidence two months out. Most importantly, I will be able to teach my three week course in August. I wish I could write more but mentally I'm not up to it, and besides, I'm heading to the Smoky Mountains for a 3 day backcountry hike this afternoon.

Cheers.


Tuesday, June 24, 2003


From the Guardian, How two students built an A-bomb:

It's one of the burning questions of the moment: how easy would it be for a country with no nuclear expertise to build an A-bomb? Forty years ago in a top-secret project, the US military set about finding out. Oliver Burkeman talks to the men who solved the nuclear puzzle in just 30 months.
La Discrimination Positive

From the New York Times:
The Supreme Court preserved affirmative action in university admissions today by a one-vote margin but with a forceful endorsement of the role of racial diversity on campus in achieving a more equal society.

"In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in her 5-to-4 majority opinion upholding the University of Michigan's consideration of race for admission to its law school.

At the same time, by a vote of 6 to 3, and with Justice O'Connor in the majority as well, the court invalidated the same university's affirmative action program for admission to its undergraduate college. The difference was in the details: the undergraduate school uses a point system based in part on race.

As a result, the pair of decisions — the court's first in a generation to address race in university admissions — provided a blueprint for taking race into account without running afoul of the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection...

...The result of today's rulings was that Justice Powell's solitary view that there was a "compelling state interest" in racial diversity, a position that had appeared undermined by the court's subsequent equal protection rulings in other contexts and that some lower federal courts had boldly repudiated, has now been endorsed by five justices and placed on a stronger footing than ever before.

President Bush had asked the court to declare the universities' policies unconstitutional...

...By contrast with the law school, the admissions program for Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts awards 20 points on a scale of 150 for membership in an underrepresented minority group — blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians — with 100 points guaranteeing admission to the university's main undergraduate school. Fixed numbers of points are also awarded for other factors, including alumni connections, geography and athletics.

The inclusion of race on the scale, with the result that nearly all qualified minority applicants are admitted to the competitive program while many qualified white students are turned away, demonstrates the absence of the "individualized consideration" that the Bakke decision required, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote. Justice O'Connor echoed that conclusion, describing the undergraduate program as a "nonindividualized, mechanical one."...

...President Bush issued a statement praising the court "for recognizing the value of diversity on our nation's campuses." He added, "Like the court, I look forward to the day when America will truly be a color-blind society."

The statement made no reference to the fact that the administration had asked the court to invalidate both Michigan programs as thinly disguised quota systems that violated the holding of the Bakke decision. Mr. Bush had personally announced in a televised address in January that his administration was siding against the university.

"A reader would never know that the administration's brief derided the law school's goal of having a critical mass of underrepresented students in each class," the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way said in a statement.

The administration's brief faulted the university for having failed to consider "race-neutral alternatives" before adopting its affirmative action plans. The only example the brief offered as an acceptable alternative was the plan now used in Texas, California and Florida, where admission is offered automatically to high school graduates above a particular class rank...
We all know the Republican stance on affirmative action, now let's hear economist Brad Delong's sparkling defense:
Andrew Sullivan doesn't see what is so wrong with an elite university with no black people in it:
www.AndrewSullivan.com - Daily Dish: ...But why is a racially un-diverse but intellectually multi-faceted campus such a bad thing? Why is a world without... [affirmative action] so "intolerable"?
I think that the politest possible response is that this demonstrates, more than anything else, that Andrew Sullivan is simply and totally clueless about what America is.

America is a country built on noble ideas, one of the chief of which is equality of opportunity. But the ancestors of today's African-Americans were, for centuries, Slaves in the Land of America. The ancestors of and many of today's African Americans were, for more than a century, then subjected to an only somewhat less viscious campaign of terror and discrimination in support of America's brutal racial caste system. And discrimination against African-Americans continues today in housing, in employment, in large durable purchases, and in other areas--albeit at a much, much less virulent level.

This historical experience has marked today's generations of African-Americans: they were and their parents were much much poorer than other Americans, their and their parents' opportunities were much more restricted, they and their parents lived in a world in which it was much more the case that the world was likely to be nasty and unfair than did the white majority. We don't fully understand exactly how this historical experience has marked today's generations of African-Americans. But we know that it has.

And we know that as long as these marks continue to last the American promise of equality of opportunity is a lie.

What is so wrong with an no-black campus is that it shows that we have not yet done nearly enough to erase the marks left by slavery and Jim Crow, and that we need to do more. What that "more" should be is a matter for debate. But to say that there is nothing very wrong with a no-black campus is to say that there is nothing wrong with failing to work hard to turn the noble founding ideas of America from lies and myths into realities. And to fail to work hard to turn the promise of America into reality is a very unAmerican thing to do.

"But," somebody like Sullivan might respond. "Lots of people's ancestors lived under brutal and barbaric conditions. Did the Black Bourgeoisie of Atlanta immediately before World War I really have things worse than the Jewish peasants of Kishinev? Why is this horrible past history of any relevance and of more than antiquarian historical interest to us in America today?"

The answer is that the pogroms of Kishinev were the deeds of the Czar and the Cossacks, while the enslavements and the lynchings were the deeds of Americans--and, indeed, the deeds of America. To the extent that one pledges allegiance to America, and accepts all the benefits and opportunities that America offers those who pledge it allegiance, one also accepts the moral obligation to bear one's share of collective responsibility for the crimes and evils committed by America in the past.

As historian Charlie Maier puts it in his book The Unmasterable Past (about German responsibility for the genocides of World War II):
...collective responsibility... is one of the most problematic concepts for ethics or history.... In what sense does collective responsibility exist?... I would suggest... that insofar as a collection of people wishes to claim existence as a society or a nation, it must thereby accept existence as a community through time, hence must acknowledge that acts committed by earlier agents still bind or burden the contemporary community.... [W]hatever reparation is still possible must be attemped.... Nor does this responsibility have a time limit. Responsibility for a burdened past can justifiably become less preoccupying as other experiences are added to the national legacy. The remoter descendants of those originally victimized have a more diluted claim to compensation. But like that half-life of radioactive material, there is no point at which responsibility simply goes away...
To accept one's fair share of the collective responsibility for the evils of slavery and Jim Crow, and to do one's part not to deny or to explain away to erase the marks it has left on our country's African-American community, are burdens that every American who wants to be considered a man needs to stand up and bear.
Ok, I confess that I never considered one's stance on affirmative action to be a question of manhood. That aside, in this debate the first thing that we need to agree on is that the goal of minimizing discrimination on the basis of superficial genetic characteristics is a worthy one. If you can't agree to this, then you're a racist and thus exempted from engagement in rational debate (I think even Monsieur Bush would agree). But then matters become more difficult... The important question becomes: is affirmative action the most efficient way to achieve this goal? Any university that engages in affirmative action incurs a cost: by substituting weaker students for stronger ones, the academic ability of the student body as a whole necessarily falls. But we all know that the Western idea of a 'liberal' education has more in mind than narrow academic achievement. Many private, elite, universities have chosen to engage in affirmative action policies for decades and it's hard not to think that a consistently diverse student body is part of what makes them elite. My point is that affirmative action has been 'tested' on the free market, and that it may be the case that a university that does not engage in it (at least to some extent) may be at a competitive disadvantage -- that is, the costs of affirmative action for an individual university are outweighed by the benefits. If this is true, then the Supreme Court's banning of affirmative action policies in public universities would seriously undermine their ability to compete in the higher education market. Paradoxically, affirmative action may be compatible with efficient markets and yet also advance America toward a worthy social goal.

It is not clear at all that the practice of affirmative action has reduced the economic disparity between whites and blacks in America. Affirmative action at the college level is often too little, too late. As long as the primary education system remains at its currently miserable level, the future looks bleak. Unfortunately, stereotypically black culture in America has not been conducive to producing individuals that are able to overcome bad schools. The most prominent role models for American black youth are athletes, gangster rappers, and demagogic preachers -- hardly the sorts of people to generate a vibrant middle class.

One last point: the U.S. has affirmative action 'light'. If you wanna see the hard stuff, look at India. If you thought repairing the damage from 150 years of slavery was difficult, try 2000 years of a rigid and highly exploitative multi-tiered caste system. 'Reservations' are made for members of the lower castes in state universities, and unlike the U.S., they are imposed by the central government. These policies have hurt India in many ways -- not least of which is that racial divisions and hatred have been kept alive or even inflamed. The image of a half-life of radioactive material is accurate: we want racial divisions to diminish with time -- too much affirmative action may increase them. It is important to remember that affirmative action is an evil; but an evil that is, for now at least, very necessary.

Monday, June 23, 2003


Word of Greek Origin of the Day

Sisyphus, \Sis"y*phus\, n. [L. Sisyphus, Sisyphus, fr. Gr. ????.] (Class. Myth.) A king of Corinth, son of [AE]olus, famed for his cunning. He was killed by Theseus, and in the lower world was condemned by Pluto to roll to the top of a hill a huge stone, which constantly rolled back again, making his task incessant.

Example sentence (thanks to Josh Marshall): Keeping conservatives from falling head-first into a pit of denial, disingenuousness and deceit is a full-time, sisyphean task.


Bush's Mendacity

Yesterday the NY Times asked: Bush May Have Exaggerated, But Did He Lie? They focus on two issues: the WMD in Iraq and the tax cuts. They conclude that yes, he did in fact lie about the tax cuts (not every tax payer will benefit, as he claimed), but no, he didn't really lie about the WMD, he just mislead. Read on:

The hunt for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq has been fruitless. The tax cut turns out to give no break whatsoever to millions of low-income taxpayers. In the view of some Democrats, President Bush has been lying about these and other matters, the way Lyndon B. Johnson lied about Vietnam, Richard M. Nixon about Watergate and Bill Clinton about his sex life...

...In fact, a review of the president's public statements found little that could lead to a conclusion that the president actually lied on either subject. But more pertinent than whether the president told the literal truth is what factors he stressed and which ones he played down.

Certainly, a strong argument can be made that he exaggerated the danger posed by banned Iraqi weapons when he was trying to convince the country and Congress of the need for a pre-emptive strike and that he overemphasized the benefits to people of modest means when he was trying to sell his tax cut...

...Look at what the president said about weapons of mass destruction in two prime-time television speeches -- one on Oct. 7, his first big address on Iraq, and the other on March 17, when he declared that Saddam Hussein had to leave Iraq in 48 hours or face an attack.

The October speech was devoted largely to the threat of banned weapons. Iraq, Mr. Bush said, had "a massive stockpile of biological weapons" and "thousands of tons of chemical agents" and was "reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." The president asked, "If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today -- and we do -- does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?"

In the speech in March, on the eve of war, Mr. Bush declared, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

There is no evidence the president did not believe what he was saying. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and other Democrats said last week that intelligence briefings they received justified Mr. Bush's statements.

Administration officials insist that Iraqi weapons will still be found. But in hindsight, the threat of banned weapons, genuine or not, does not seem to have been, as the president was suggesting, the decisive motivation for going to war. More central reasons -- his desire to dominate the Middle East and remove a dictator whose defiance made the United States seem weak -- would have been harder to sell politically. Last week, in a speech in New Jersey, Mr. Bush did not even mention Iraqi weapons. Instead, he cited Mr. Hussein's refusal to abide by the demands of "the free world" and said, "This is for certain: Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat to the United States and our friends and allies."

On the question of taxes, Mr. Bush made a claim in his State of the Union address that was not true, and he repeated it often afterward. "This tax relief," he declared, "is for everyone who pays income taxes."

In fact, as the Tax Policy Center, a research arm of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, discovered, 8.1 million people who owe taxes would have received no tax cut from the Bush proposal and will get no break from the legislation that was enacted last month. Almost all of them are either single people with no children and no dividends or capital gains who were already in the 10 percent tax bracket, or else those with "head of household" filing status whose dependent is not a child under 17.

But there are more than 100 million income tax payers in the country. So well over 90 percent will get some tax cut. If he had said "almost all," it would have been accurate.

What is more important is that the tax relief most people will receive is quite meager, hardly the impression the president sought to leave when he campaigned around the country for the plan.

Mr. Bush kept emphasizing the tax benefits for people with modest incomes, not the more extensive tax relief he wanted for the well heeled. He often had onstage with him a couple with two children and an income of $40,000 or $50,000 whose taxes would be cut by more than $1,000, mostly because of the increase in the child tax credit.

But the indisputable fact is that the bulk of the tax cut will go to the wealthy. A study by Citizens for Tax Justice, a liberal research institute whose calculations have gone unchallenged, found that half of all taxpayers would get a cut of less than $100 a year this year and that by 2005, three-quarters would get less than $100.

On the other hand, almost two-thirds of all the tax savings will go to the wealthiest 10 percent of taxpayers, and the richest 1 percent will get an average tax reduction of nearly $100,000 a year.

The question on Iraq and taxes is whether Mr. Bush stepped across the line dividing acceptable politicking from manipulation. Some critics hold that Mr. Bush twisted intelligence to conform with his policy goals. This can probably be answered conclusively only by historians when all the evidence and consequences are known...


In my view the question about the Iraq war is not whether or not Bush lied -- this question is impossible to answer -- but it is how the WMD issue became a sufficient condition for conquering a foreign country. It is now clear that the administration decided internally to invade Iraq sometime in the winter/spring 2002. Around August 2002, the Bush administration came out with their startling new "pre-emptive" defense strategy. Shortly thereafter, we started to hear how Iraq's WMDs posed an imminent threat to the U.S. and therefore, under the new policy of pre-emption, unless Saddam fully complied with America's demands, the U.S. was justified in attacking. The administration essentially conjured up a reason to take over Iraq. The first major deceit is that the administration formulated and sold the strategy of pre-emption as necessary for America's security in the post 9/11 world, when in fact it is only a way to justify adventures in empire. The second deceit is the claim that Iraq posed a serious threat to America and its interests. What is troubling is that the first deceit -- the bigger of the two -- goes largely undebated.

Sunday, June 22, 2003


Changing Directions?

The pain has improved, or maybe I'm just used to it by now. The pain is not important in and of itself, what is important is what the pain signals: has the Temodar stopped working? If yes, and I continue the Temodar then the likely scenario is that the cancer will spread, the pain will increase, and I'm in trouble. If no, and I continue the Temodar then I can expect to enjoy the current quality of life (decent) for some time to come. If yes, and I switch to a different treatment plan then I've made the right move: maybe the new treatment will work, maybe it won't, but at least I'm not doing the Temodar. If no, and I switch to a different treatment plan then maybe the new treatment works, maybe it doesn't, but at least I have the Temodar to fall back on.

The signals I'm getting tell me that the Temodar is no longer working. So I think it makes sense to make a move to a different type of treatment right now while I still can. Temodar is not a long run solution, but it might have given me the break that I need to jump into a program that is more promising. Of course I'm missing the key piece of the puzzle: the results from Thursday's ct scans.

Thursday, June 19, 2003


Why your girlfriend has more in common with your sister than you do. Also...Barium smoothies!

Scientists have unraveled several mysteries of the Y chromosome. It turns out that men and women are more different than previously thought:
...As often noted, the genomes of humans and chimpanzees are 98.5 percent identical, when each of their three billion DNA units are compared. But what of men and women, who have different chromosomes?

Until now, biologists have said that makes no difference, because there are almost no genes on the Y, and in women one of the two X chromosomes is inactivated, so that both men and women have one working X chromosome.

But researchers have recently found that several hundred genes on the X escape inactivation. Taking those genes into account along with the new tally of Y genes gives this result: Men and women differ by 1 to 2 percent of their genomes, Dr. Page said, which is the same as the difference between a man and a male chimpanzee or between a woman and a female chimpanzee.

Almost all male-female differences, whether in cognition, behavior, anatomy or susceptibility to disease, have usually been attributed to the sex hormones. But given the genomic differences that are now apparent, that premise has to be re-examined, in Dr. Page's view.

"We all recite the mantra that we are 99 percent identical and take political comfort in it," Dr. Page said. "But the reality is that the genetic difference between males and females absolutely dwarfs all other differences in the human genome."...

As different as humans from chimpanzees. Wow. See a BBC article for a more humorous interpretation.

Barium: Ba; Atomic number: 56. May you never have to have ct scans. I just downed the first of two Barium Sulfate smoothies as preparation for the scans which will take place in just under two hours. The smoothies help light up the old GI tract. Actually these scans are no big deal, they only take 15 minutes or so to do. PET scans and MRIs are more of a bother. The pictures will be available to my doctor as soon as tomorrow, but I probably won't learn anything new until my appointment next Thursday. Let's hope they are incredibly boring.


Wednesday, June 18, 2003


Oh Canada, Canada, Canada...

There's a must read article in today's NY Times analyzing our friendly, and highly evolved, neighbor to the north:
Canada's decision to allow marriage between same-sex couples is only one of many signs that this once tradition-bound society is undergoing social change at an astonishing rate. Increasingly, Canada has been on a social policy course pursued by many Western European and Scandinavian countries, and over the last few decades it has been moving gradually more out of step with the United States. Even as the government announced on Tuesday that it would rewrite the definition of marriage, it was also in the process of transforming its drug policies by decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and, to combat disease, permitting "safe-injection" clinics in Vancouver, British Columbia, for heroin addicts. The large Indian population remains impoverished, but there are signs that native peoples are taking greater control of their destinies; their leaders now govern two territories, occupying more than a third of Canada's land mass.

As far as the ease with which society changes, Canada is virtually in a category by itself. Canada is a country that has never had a revolution or civil war, and little social turbulence aside from sporadic rebellions in the 19th century and a splash of terrorism in Quebec in the 1960's and 1970's. The country's demographics have changed dramatically since then, when the government of Pierre Trudeau opened wide the country's doors to Africans, Asians and West Indians as part of an attempt to fill Canada's huge, underpopulated hinterland. Eighteen percent of the population is now foreign-born compared with about 11 percent in the United States, with little or no debate over whether the effects of such change in culture, demographics and national identity is good or bad.

Only in the last generation have Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, with one third of the population, become multicultural polyglots, with the towers of Sikh temples and mosques becoming mainstays of the skylines and cuisines and fashion becoming concoctions of spices and patterns that are in the vanguard of globalization. Toronto, once a homogeneous city of staid British tradition, now counts more than 40 percent of the people as foreign born. There are nearly 2,000 ethnic restaurants, and local radio and television stations broadcast in more than 30 languages. "Everything from marriage laws to marijuana laws, we are going through a period of accelerated social change," said Neil Bissoondath, an immigrant from Trinidad who is a leading novelist. "There is a general approach to life here that is both evolutionary and revolutionary." Mr. Bissoondath said the balance went back to the ideals of the Tory founders of Canada, who remained loyal to the British crown and who instilled a laissez-faire conservatism "that says people have a right to live their lives as they like." That philosophy was a practical necessity in a colony that was bilingual after the British conquered French Quebec, creating relative social peace by allowing greater religious freedoms than even Catholics in England had at the time.

The live-and-let-live approach was codified by the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada's Bill of Rights. Being as young as it is, the charter occupies a vivid corner of the Canadian psyche. So when three senior provincial courts ruled recently that federal marriage law discriminated against same-sex couples, the Liberal Party cabinet decided to go along and not appeal. While the new law will have to be passed by the House of Commons, little organized resistance has developed. Few have complained that a national policy pertaining to something as intimate as marriage would be set by courts in Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario rather than a federal body. In part, that reflects the great relative political strength that regional governments have developed in what is known as the Canadian Confederation, where the federal government is weaker than most central governments in the West.

But it also reflects poll results that show a majority of Canadians support expanding marriage to gay couples. Last year, the Quebec provincial assembly enacted unanimously a law giving sweeping parental rights to same-sex couples, with even the most conservative members voting in favor despite lobbying by the Roman Catholic Church. "Canada has always been in the vanguard in relation to many societies in the world," Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Tuesday, speaking in French to reporters after he announced the cabinet's decision. "We have met our responsibilities."

Nowhere has the social change been more dramatic than in Mr. Chretien's home province of Quebec, which as recently as the 1960's was deeply conservative and where the church dominated education and social life. Since the baby-boomer generation started the "quiet revolution" in favor of separatism, big government social programs and secularism, abortion and divorce rates there rose to among the highest in Canada. Meanwhile, church attendance plummeted.

Now the pendulum is moving in the other direction, ever so slightly. "There is a centrist mentality in Canada that translates into the political system not tolerating the Pat Buchanans nor the leftist equivalent," Michel C. Auger, a political columnist for Le Journal de Montreal, said. "There is a unified fabric here that is a lot stronger on social issues than it seems to be in the United States."

There are several points worth making which relate to the sections I emphasized. First of all... Why am I still sitting here? I should be packing my stuff and hopping on the next plane to Montreal. Why should I go all the way to Sweden for a utopia when there's a perfectly great one right next door? Canada continues to vault skyward in my personal rank of nations (see this article from the Economist for an explanation of my criteria, in particular the graphic on the lower right. Hint: up and right is good), nudging past Finland and Denmark to rival Sweden for the top spot. One of the stars of Bowling for Columbine, aside from Monsieur Heston, is the country of Canada. In it, its cities are depicted as safe, racism as minimal, and apparently the people are plenty sane enough to handle the responsibility of gun ownership. My own Canadian experiences are limited to Victoria and Vancouver. Both were quite nice, especially Vancouver. I've always thought of Canada as just like America, but without all the bad stuff. But perhaps that isn't giving Canada enough credit.

Point 2. A handful of countries, Canada, Australia among them, are truly fulfilling the promise of globalization. Globalization is the future. There is no alternative. Check that, there are alternatives: we could have ourselves a nice little world war like we did in 1914, or countries could try to seal themselves off, a la Kim Jong Il. The economic forces driving globalization are too strong. Another painful byproduct of Bush, and American power in general, is that globalization is increasingly being viewed by much of the world as Americanization. This is not true, or at least it doesn't have to be true, and Canada is a shining example.

Point 3. In the end, it always comes back to America for me. After all, like it or not, I'm an American. And like it or not, the U.S. spends more on military spending than the rest of the world combined. What has happened in the U.S. over the past two years has been nothing less than a power play by the ethnic/religious majority. It is not politics as usual, but rather a serious attempt by the white, Christian majority to seize political control and to advance an agenda that would essentially change the rules of the game in their favor. It is more complicated than this, of course, but I don't think I overstate the case. Democracies are fragile, fickle beasts, and the U.S. is flirting with a worst case scenario: tyranny of the majority. What majority are we talking about? Some majorities are more dangerous than others. This majority, the booboisie, made up predominantly of Southerners and evangelical Christians -- people who place a low weight on education, science, cultural diversity and a high weight on nationalism and the belief that people who think differently from them are evil-- is particularly ill-suited for power. Yet this is the group that now controls the most powerful political party in the most powerful country in the world. This is the group that is working to undermine the institutions necessary to unseat it from power: a sound, secular, primary educational system; a firm separation of church and state; a reasonably progressive income tax structure to prevent damaging levels of income inequality; liberal immigration policies; the protection of the rights of the individual. One lesson to be learned from the article above is that the U.S. needs more immigration; we need Asians, we need Africans, we need Latin Americans. We need them to restore the demographic balance which is apparently necessary for sane politics in America.

Finally, I'd like to advance a fairly radical hypothesis (previously aired in a conversation with Mr. Q): that America would be better off if it had lost the American Revolution. Set aside, for a moment, the shock to your grade school nationalism, and also the implications this would have for the rest of history (particularly the French Revolution) and look at the example of Canada (or Australia). Granted, we were lucky and had a decent bunch of Founding Fathers, but perhaps we could have benefited from staying with wise old Britain a bit longer before running off on our own. Perhaps we wouldn't have killed off much of the native American population... I only mention this because my political ideal springs from mid-19th century England and John Stuart Mill, whose lessons Canada has apparently mastered, but that we have yet to learn.



Life in a 'Red' State

It is always with some trepidation that I pick up our newspaper, The Tennessean, every morning. Today I learned that Tennessee legislators have passed a bill to create a new personal license plate that reads: "Choose Life". Governor Phil Bredesen (D), a yankee (studied physics at Harvard!) who was miraculously voted in last November, then had to decide whether to sign it into law or veto it. Needless to say, the vetoing of such a harmless, and even good-hearted, little bill wouldn't have gone over well with the voters. He decided, for now, to do nothing.

Some internet research revealed that Tennessee now has the chance to join an elite group of states that already have "Choose Life" license plates available: Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The concerned citizen pays $20-$75 over the normal license plate fee, and this money then goes to charitable organizations --some of which happen to be religious-- that provide crisis pregnancy services to women. What a clever idea!

I have always felt ambivalent towards these sorts of fundraising schemes. Here in 'a red state' you see these plates all the time: an unfathomably ugly orange UT plate; a more distinguished looking VU plate; a plate with a cute little jazz cat playing the sax (the money goes to 'the arts'); a plate with a wild duck flying (wildlife conservation); a bland MTSU plate. But now, the possibilities are endless. Before long, we can look forward to 'Friend of the NRA' plates; 'Vote Bush or DIE' plates, you name it. An irony, which everyone on both sides of the debate will miss is that the phrase "Choose Life" is not attacking abortion, per se. After all, it uses the word choose, which implies that women have a choice, which is precisely the goal of the "Pro Choice" crowd. But of course, that is not the intent of the Choose Lifers, and everyone knows it.

Why the abortion issue is so important for many Christians, I will never understand. From my post-Christian view, I would far prefer not to exist rather than be born to a single teenage mother who doesn't want me. I would also far prefer not to exist than be born to a single teenage mother who doesn't want me and then puts me up to be adopted by a chrushingly Christian couple from Valdosta, Georgia. But now I'm hitting too close to home. This reminds me of a chilling, but probably correct, paper (or, for the original, here) mentioned in the Economist several years ago. The rough intuition is that since Roe vs. Wade, millions of abortions have taken place and that, consequently, millions of potential criminals went unborn and thus, thanks to Roe vs. Wade, we have less crime today than we would without it. These guys find evidence to support this claim. Lots more to say on these issues, but that's all for now. More 'life in a red state' to come.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003


Yesterday was supposed to be a good day. Today was supposed to be better. Instead, well...a mysterious pain -- nothing really, just a little pressure under the left collarbone -- appeared, and all is thrown into uncertainty. At least until Thursday when I sit for another batch of ct scans.

The problem with this pain is that it is so unexpected. If it had appeared, say 10 days ago, then I could have taken it in stride. But yesterday, the very day when the effects from the latest round of Temodar (light chemotherapy) were supposed to have worn off completely, returning me to youthful, healthful, exuberance... Then there is the location: left shoulder, rather than the right where the pain would at least have made sense. Is this a good sign?

I went to sleep late last night hoping that when I woke the pain would be gone, that during the night it would disappear, like the pain last November, the pain that this so resembles. That was the operation to remove the gallbladder. When this is done with a laproscope, they pump nitrogen gas into your midsection so that the doctors/instruments have room to work. When the gallbladder is safely popped out, they try to force out all the nitrogen gas before sewing you up, but, inevitably, a couple of pockets remain. The nitrogen gas then bubbles up painfully under the shoulders and can be quite an annoyance for several days after, before it finally is absorbed by the body. This pain is like that, though not as severe. I hope that it is just one of those strange, idiosyncratic side effects from the chemo, that this does not signal that the chemo was completely ineffective, that this does not foreshadow another advance of the disease.

But I know better by now. There are other indications that the chemo might not have worked this time: the other tumors haven't softened or shrunk like they did before. Forget about it, ct scans on Thursday, another appointment with my oncologist next week, it's too early to know what's going on. I'll know soon enough.

Monday, June 16, 2003


This is the first post on my new blog. What will become of it?

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