To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I've mentioned the weird birds around here. We've seen some enormous vultures, lots and lots of them. Today R saw some that descended on some roadkill - a possum, probably - and picked it up out of the street and put it on the sidewalk so they could eat it safely and at their leisure. Now isn't that a bit much?

And Bonnie caught an 8-inch lizard. I saw its head, big as a turtle head.

Still looking for alligators. The lakes we drive past have little signs about "no swimming" and so forth. I am assured that we will see them eventually.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Apparently having a cat cuts a person's risk of death from heart attack or stroke.

Owning a Cat Good for the Heart?

A new study shows that cat owners are less likely to die of a heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases than people who have never had a pet cat.

The findings emerged from an analysis of data on nearly 4,500 men and women, ages 30 to 75, who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. All were free of cardiovascular disease when they entered the study in the 1970s.

Over half, 55%, reported having a pet cat at some point in their lives.

Compared with cat owners, people who never had a pet cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack over the 20-year study period. They were also 30% more likely to die of any cardiovascular disease, including stroke, heart failure, and chronic heart disease.

The results held true even after the researchers took into account other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including age, gender, race, blood pressure, and smoking.

The researchers found no such link for people who had a pet dog.

So we have a correlation, and assume a cause-and-effect, which probably isn't too out of line.

There's a possibility that the kind of person who would have a cat probably has some lifestyle feature that improves his/her cardiovascular health.

If there is a cause-and-effect it may not be that whole stress-reducing thing of having a purring creature in your lap. It could be something weird, like cats carrying some microorganism that has a positive effect on humans' health. Stranger things have happened.

Or it could be that instead of dying of stroke or heart disease, cat owners die of something else, like falling down the stairs tripping over the kitten and breaking their neck as my BIL did (he recovered).

Anyway, I knew there had to be a reason why we have these little - uh - darlings.

Friday, February 22, 2008

F has a little Acer travelmate tablet PC that we bought for her when she went off to college. We had planned to get her a reasonably modest laptop, and then her nice academic scholarships were such that we were able to spend a bit more money and get what she wanted.

And she loves her little computer, but occasionally it gives her fits. It started dropping out letters, and the tablet function stopped working, and we arranged to send it in for repair; but then in the meantime it occurred to me to ask if she'd updated all her virus things and run checkdisk.

Here's an excerpt from her email:

I just completed the checkdisk thing... last night I had to wrestle with all the other things I run, trying to get them updated. Spybot insisted on downloading and installing the new edition of it, and I couldn't make it not, so I was like whatever (there's some grammar for you) and let it and waited three years for it to install itself, but then it was like REBOOT and I was like NO and then I was like FINE WHATEVER and I rebooted and it was like HEY I HAVE TO INSTALL MYSELF NOW and I was like NO YOU DON'T GO AWAY. So I ran the old version of spybot and I guess it worked fine. It took deep into the night, but it didn't find any problems. Ask Daddy should I reinstall the new Spybot or just keep using the old one? Also, ask him what is ad-watch? It appeared on my desktop along with the new adaware.

anyhow, I'm writing this email to test that the typing works, which it appears to do. I have not tested writing on the screen.

oh- the new spybot calls itself spybotsd152. ask daddy what that is as well. I am confused.

Poor F. Here is what we had in my day:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth. Prov. 27:2

Bob Geldof in Rwanda gives Bush his props

KIGALI, Rwanda — Bob Geldof has parachuted into the White House travel pool here in Rwanda, and will join us on the flight from Air Force One to Ghana tonight.


Mr. Geldof is an Irish rock and roll singer and longtime social activist who has helped, along with U2 rocker Bono, raise awareness about need in Africa. His most well known achievement is organizing the Live Aid concert in 1985, which raised money for debt relief for poor African countries.

But Mr. Geldof has remained closely engaged with African affairs since then, and he spoke off the cuff to reporters today who were waiting for a press conference with Mr. Bush and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Mr. Geldof praised Mr. Bush for his work in delivering billions to fight disease and poverty in Africa, and blasted the U.S. press for ignoring the achievement.

Mr. Bush, said Mr. Geldof, "has done more than any other president so far."

"This is the triumph of American policy really," he said. "It was probably unexpected of the man. It was expected of the nation, but not of the man, but both rose to the occasion."

"What's in it for [Mr. Bush]? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Geldof said.

Mr. Geldof said that the president has failed "to articulate this to Americans" but said he is also "pissed off" at the press for their failure to report on this good news story.

"You guys didn't pay attention," Geldof said to a group of reporters from all the major newspapers.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I've gotten a few hits from people looking for explanations of "The Lady's Maid's Bell". So it wasn't just us, Tsiporah.
: )


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.

— Thomas Jefferson

If he thought that, why didn't he say, "Minimal verbosity is optimum."


Saturday, February 16, 2008

How the next generation does it.

This is not your mama's hula hoop.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Today while I admired the pretty lakes I drive past on my way to/from work I remembered Patriot Lake in Memphis. This is part of Shelby Farms, a large urban park between Memphis and Cordova. We have a lot of family memories of that place, because we spent a lot of time there.

There's a paved path that goes around the lake, and R and I used to walk around it with F, or following her on her roller skates or her bicycle. After she had gone off to college I could still go there (and did by myself a few times just to get some alone time) and envision her little self skating or biking or hopping up that path.

For a while there was a boat rental there, and F and I would rent a canoe and paddle around.

And she loved to go down to the water's edge and look for tiny mussels and other creatures. She spent a lot of time doing that, with me sitting on a bench catching a breeze.

Sometime when we were in the midst of running errands, if the day was pretty we would drop everything and go to Patriot Lake. For a few years I kept a picnic blanket and a kite in the trunk of the car for just this purpose. There's a kite-flying hill that always has convection breezes from the lake.

Here are some pix from 2004.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I had occasion today to remember one of the owners of a company I used to work for. It was a chemical company and the lab/engineering group owned by it did environmental work - hazardous waste site remediations, effluent monitoring and so forth.

When a sample is taken for environmental sampling, the clock starts ticking on the holding time. This is the amount of time you have to get the analysis done, and it varies by matrix (soil or water) and by analyte. If you miss the holding time, and the sample exceeds the cleanup criteria, that's not usually a big deal. But if the sample is clean, you can't use the results because it has expired, so to speak, and you can't say the concentration of your analytes didn't decrease over time. Typically, if holding times are missed because of negligence in the lab, the lab has to pay for resampling. If bulldozers and things have to be mobilized, this can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Shortly after I went to work for this company, one of the owners had a meeting with all of us. He passed out copies of an article for us to read, that described how upper-level people with an environmental lab somewhere faced criminal charges and jail time because they'd missed holding times on samples from a Superfund site and falsified dates to cover that up. Some people had left that lab and gone to work elsewhere, but the feds went after them. He passed that article out to tell us this:

"DON'T HELP ME. If you miss holding times and we have to pay for resampling, that's bad. But if you miss holding times and lie about it, and I go to jail, that's real bad. Don't miss holding times! But if you do, don't lie about it!"

He went on to tell us that no one in that company would ever ask us to lie about anything, and if we thought they had, we were mistaken.

Some time after this I happened to be at work on the weekend, and he was too. He saw that I was there and asked me to come to his office. It seemed that the city had asked us to start checking the effluent of the plant there in town for carbon tetrachloride, and there was a surprising amount; the company was having to pay fines. The chemist who did volatiles had just turned in some results, and there would be more fines. The owner asked me to check the data and I said I would. But as I put my hand on the door handle, he stopped me and said, "I have to say something."

"No, you don't," I thought, but I stopped and let him say it.

"I'm not asking you to help me here. I don't want you to 'fix' anything. If the number is in error I don't want to pay a fine. But if it's right, it's right."

"I understand," I said, and I went to the volatile lab.

I found the chromatogram and the calibration data, checked the peak integration and the spectrum, went all the way back to the preparation of the calibration standards, recalculated the curve, recalculated the data against a single point, even found the sample and reran it on the chance that the chemist had run the wrong sample. Finally I went back to the owner's office.

"I'm sorry," I said, "I can't find an error."

"Okay, thanks!" he said brightly.

Subsequently they found out where the carbon tet was coming from and fixed the problem.

And subsequent to all of that, this same owner promoted me, twice. He put me forward to be in the pilot group for the in-house management training program we had, and to be in some process development teams at the plant, which was extremely cool. If the chemical industry had not had a downturn in the '90's, and at the same time we had not finished the remediation of those hazardous waste sites, so that they had to cut the lab loose, I would happily have worked there forever.

The point is that this man set a standard for integrity that none of his employees had any excuse for not understanding. When people try to duck responsibility for what their underlings do I think about him, and about the fact that anybody who falsified anything at that workplace did it in direct, explicit violation of the standard he set. I've also thought about the importance of telling the truth, being aboveboard and transparent and all those inconvenient things. There is no job, and certainly there is no audit, accreditation, or anything else, that is worth more to me than my integrity. Jobs come and go but I'll always have myself. You have to watch that slippery slope because every boss is not as principled as this one. If your boss sees you let this little thing and that little thing slide, you have only yourself to blame if he puts you on the spot by asking you to do something you really don't think is right. If your boss sees you being compulsive about doing everything exactly right and by the book, redoing work if necessary, painstakingly investigating when things don't go right, telling the salesman the material just can't go out because the specifications aren't met, he knows better than to ask. So setting high standards for yourself and sticking to them makes everything easier in the long run. (I will say that I can't see my current boss asking me or anyone to do anything that's not right.)

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I'm posting here a comment that I made on the bioethics blog I've posted about before. The post I commented on was about using embryonic stem cells to research Huntington disease. The poster indicated that she thought President Bush objects to this research because he imagines that babies are being stuffed into test tubes. In a comment responding to me she says that this was hyperbole but she still thinks he doesn't understand the development of a blastocyst. I left this comment for approval but I'm posting it here too because it occurs to me that on my very own blog I've never spelled out my thinking about this issue.

Ricki, I'm not sure he is not aware of the extent of development of a blastocyst, either.

Many people, me included, consider that life - that is, human life worthy of respect and protection - begins at conception. To explain this as briefly as possible, when I wanted to reach a conclusion about this, I thought that I needed to find a bright line between life/not life. I can't see acknowledging that an individual is a living human but that his life is without value if his death would be convenient for another individual. Fetal development occurs on a continuum. If one picks out an event such as the heart beginning to beat, (a) it doesn't immediately start beating the way a mature heart does, and (b) different individuals will hit that milestone at different times; you can't say "X happens at Y weeks" and cover every individual. You can see this by looking at premature babies. Some born at 30 weeks aren't ready and can't be saved, others do very well and later have no averse effects. So the trimester divisions don't make much sense either if you're looking for life/not life or viability. Birth isn't really a bright line either, which was confirmed for me when my daughter was born 3 weeks before her due date. That would have been 3 weeks that she was a human, when if I hadn't gone into labor early she would have been an amorphous clump of cells (bit of hyperbole there.) But going back all the way to ova and sperm, each gamete has the potential to become an infinite variety of humans depending on which gamete it finds to join with; or nothing at all if conception doesn't happen to occur. Once conception occurs, a unique individual exists who did not exist before. So there is my bright line. Some people think implantation is the magic moment, which makes a certain amount of sense because it's known that many, perhaps most, embryos don't implant, so it looks like "nature" views them as throwaways. I see that but it's not compelling to me. So for me, conception is it.

The point is, you absolutely do not have to agree with me. I will not think you are stupid or misinformed if you do not. On the other hand, the fact that I have this view that most likely differs from yours doesn't make me stupid or misinformed. If I skimmed your article and thought, "she doesn't care about helping sick people, she just wants any excuse to keep abortion legal" I would be wronging you, for one thing, but also denying myself an opportunity to check my conclusions and make sure they are still valid; something we should all do from time to time.

Sometimes when I read things that bioethicists write I think that their function is to find a way to rationalize whatever a doctor or scientist wants to do. I'm sure that's not fair but it's how they come across sometimes.

I remember that several years ago a woman whose father had Parkinson's wanted to be inseminated by him so that there would be a fetus closely related to him for a fetal tissue implant. This was turned down. For those of us who object to the harvesting of fetuses for their tissue on principle, it's a no-brainer anyway. For those who don't, it's hard to see what the objection is except that it seems icky. You bet it is, it's icky as hell, and it's the next logical step if we dehumanize unborn humans to this extent. One isn't supposed to say "nazi" because it's an overused cliche. So I'll mention the Japanese "doctors" who experimented on American POWs during WWII: to find out how much blood loss they could endure if it was replaced with seawater, for instance, or how much of their livers could be removed without killing them. Dehumanizing these people in the interest of learning things. What's the point in doing medical research, if people's lives don't matter anyway?

I think some people are distracted by the fact that the ESC and fetal tissue experiments are carried out in nice, clean labs by people with advanced degrees who wear white lab coats. How can you connect experiments on POWs with this? How can you extrapolate from attempts to research disease, to doctors like Mengele? Going back to what I posted earlier about "To Build a Fire", maybe this points out the importance of imagination, without which one can't see the big picture. You can't put blinders on and focus only on the need to do something about a specific disease without counting the cost. You can't look at what is happening in one isolated lab in 2008. You have to look at these things in the context of how they have been done before (i.e. what humans are capable of, which is why those of us who contemplate this weren't shocked by that woman who wanted to conceive her father's child) and therefore what they could lead to without meaningful regulations and guidelines. This is the only difference between doctors in Germany and Japan in the last century, and doctors here today. To be clear about what I'm saying here: all doctors in Germany and Japan were not engaged in these horrific things. Only a few were. But there's nothing, no "bright line", to really say that German or Japanese doctors in the 1940's were qualitatively different from doctors now to the extent that everything our doctors want to do is automatically ethical and defensible. You can't assume that intelligence and an advanced degree imply a well-developed conscience or that each individual researcher fully understands that "we can" does not imply "we should".

So these are my thoughts. As always, feel free to disagree.

Friday, February 08, 2008

No flu yet. And the soup is dayum good. How did I make it? you ask.

I cooked one package each of chicken breasts and thighs. Removed the skin first. While the chicken was cooking I dumped in a whole jar of hot salsa. (I was worried that that was too much b/c while the soup was cooking my eyes started watering, even with the hood on. Turns out it is just exactly spicy enough.) When the chicken had cooked I removed it and added some chopped celery, carrots, onion, mushrooms, and a handful or so of brown rice. Took the meat off the bone, shredded it a bit, and put it back in. Continued to simmer until the carrots were done. I set the pot in the sink in cold water to cool quickly so it could be refrigerated, and then divided it into disposable single-serving containers (which we don't dispose of, we wash and re-use.) After I heated my serving tonight I garnished it with bits of avocado. And I had tortilla chips on the side.

R had some today and he thought it was good. You probably know that capsaicin, which is the chemical that makes chili peppers hot, is a natural pain killer. It's counterintuitive, but there it is. So you should go for the salsa when you have a sore throat. I have had success "treating" mild migraines with it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I made soup this evening. Why did I make soup this evening? Because R is down with a pretty wretched case of influenza. I am symptom-free right now but trying to plan ahead. If I come down with flu before he gets well enough to drive we'll be glad for some homemade chicken soup in the fridge. Even if I don't get sick we'll be glad for some homemade chicken soup in the fridge.

No, we did not get the shot this year. Because we are idiots.

Earlier in the week I was at a conference in Orlando. Had a good time, learned some things, met my former employers in Memphis. They acted glad to see me. They did finally replace me after I told them repeatedly that I was not coming back. (And I am still grateful to them for keeping my job open, which kept me from being terminally bummed out when I thought I didn't have a job here any longer.)

Last week I had lunch with the salesman who initiated contact between me and these people here. He was appalled to find out that the plant had mostly shut down and was fairly apologetic but I told him that we all feel that the move to Florida was the right thing to do, regardless. He has other contacts in the area and I am to call him if my situation changes.