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Monday, June 20, 2016

Do not go gentle

Last week, Salon.com featured an interview with Chuck Klosterman, author of the book But What If We're Wrong. One of the things we're probably wrong about, he says, is chemotherapy: 
I would not be surprised if chemotherapy will seem like bleeding people with leeches. It will seem crazy that we poisoned people to make them better... We were just pumping poison into people because we had no other guess.
Lots of people share his opinion of chemo, and it's understandable. Chemotherapy is absolutely horrible. It is most definitely poison. However, unlike leaches, chemotherapy does actually do good, and it's way better than a guess.
It's that scotch tape on her face
that really gives it credibility
I know a lot of people who believe I'm dead wrong - a lot of really intelligent folks I know think that treatments like chemotherapy are part of a conspiracy to keep cancer patients sick so that big pharma can make more money from them. As conspiracy theories go, this one's particularly cogent. Pharmaceutical companies are pretty evil, and cancer treatment does make a lot of money for certain interests. But let's look at the facts.
First, let's talk a bit about cancer. Cancer is defined as a group of diseases characterized by abnormal cell growth. The fact that cancer is a group of diseases rather than one disease is significant. Some cancers involve tumors, some don't. Some are caused by environmental factors, some aren't. Some respond well to chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, while others don't. People often talk about a cure for cancer that science already secretly knows about; that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of cancer - there will never be one cure for all cancers. What makes treating all the various types of cancers especially tricky is that the patient's own body is creating the cancer cells, so killing the cancer without harming the healthy cells around it has proved incredibly difficult.
Even so, it seems possible that the industry is sitting on treatments that are more effective, but less profitable. However, if you look critically at the facts, you'll find that if doctors and researchers are trying to profit from our illness are doing a really bad job of it.
For one thing, they're constantly shoving the best weapons against cancer in our hands for free. If you're looking to get cancer, smoking's about the best way to do it. So why are doctors and other medical professionals constantly harping on you about smoking? Why does Big Pharma keep making new smoking cessation drugs when a full 22% of cancer cases can be linked to smoking? 
For that matter, why does my doctor remind me of my obesity every time I see him, as if I don't have mirrors at home to do the job? It's because another 10% of cancers are caused by obesity, inactivity, drinking, and other enjoyable pursuits. Why would doctors nag their patients about that stuff so much, if they just wanted them to get sick anyway?
When it comes to cancer prevention, some supposed members of the cancer conspiracy are putting a lot of effort into sabotaging themselves. The Cleveland Clinic, for example. Some years ago, they lost a lot of money breaking their contract with the McDonald's then set up in their food court. Now the cafeteria sells food that's a lot less profitable and a lot less likely to cause cancer and other deadly health problems. They replaced all the tasty foods in their vending machines with twigs and leaves, and they now randomly drug test their employees for tobacco. Now, I personally find these measures creepily invasive and paternalistic, but it seems weird that one of the fanciest hospital systems in the country would spend so much money trying to get people to adopt lifestyles that will keep them from getting cancer if what they really wanted was for people to get more cancer. 
But setting aside prevention, doctors also recommend less profitable cancer interventions all the time. Like leaving the cancer where it is. For instance, if a dude lives long enough, he will get prostate cancer - I think I read somewhere that like 80% of guys over 80 have it. But not all kinds of prostate cancer are fast-growing enough to ever be a problem, so doctors very commonly just leave the cancer alone. Doctors could easily get together and decide to always prescribe some kind of angiogenesis inhibitor for guys with prostate cancer, and they'd be able to boast that 98.9% of people who take angiogenesis inhibitors for prostate cancer live at least five years after their diagnosis. They wouldn't have to tell us that the number is true whether the drugs are used or not. Search for "prognosis for prostate cancer" on Google and you'll find that the American Cancer Society, Web MD, the Mayo Clinic, the UK's NIH, and Cancer.Gov all agree that 99% of all people diagnosed with prostate cancer won't die of it. If there were some conspiracy to give us all cancer drugs we don't need, wouldn't that number be way lower?
It certainly seems like the progress in cancer treatment is glacial, but the fact is that in 1990, only half of cancer patients lived five years after their diagnosis. Now two thirds do, thanks to conventional medicine. We know more about cancer than ever before, and personalized cancer treatment that attacks cancer on a cellular level is showing huge promise. We have made good progress and, may well be right on the cusp of a great leap forward.
Look - I can't even imagine how horrible chemo is, and I've got a pretty active imagination. The side effects are ungodly. The treatment is well and truly poisonous. And I believe people do have the right not to choose that route. But they also have the right to know that doing so comes with a vastly increased risk of death. When people post about the evils of traditional cancer treatment, mindlessly re-posting links and memes and articles on social media without even bothering to fact check, they're perpetuating a deadly lie. If a person wants to ignore the study after study demonstrates that people who choose alternative medicine over chemotherapy are far more likely to die, that's their business. What they don't have the right to do is regurgitate  pseudo-science encouraging others to risk their own lives. It's shameful and inexcusable.
And that's actually my whole problem with alternative medicine in a nutshell. The pseudo-science of it, and the simultaneous vilification of science based medicine. If a suffering person gets relief from unscientific remedies like reiki or vitamins or crystals, then screw the science and embrace the crystals. But don't claim there's science when there's not. It's perfectly accurate and acceptable to say "this vitamin makes some people feel better and it may make you feel better, but science doesn't know why." It's not acceptable to say "you should stop using that scientifically proven remedy and use this vitamin instead because all scientific studies are lies," because people have the right to make their own informed decision about their care.    
Stay tuned for the truth about the truth about cancer.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

La la la I can't hear you

A few days ago, a toddler playing near a lake was carried off and killed by an alligator. A few weeks ago, a toddler fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and was rescued when zoo officials shot the gorilla. The public's very different reactions to the scenarios are puzzling.
While some in the media and online did shame the Graves family, who were allowing their child to wade in an artificial lake despite "No Swimming" signs, the family has received overwhelming support both online and in their community. And this is absolutely as it should be. There is nothing worse in this world than to lose a child. 
However, Michelle Gregg, mother of the boy who was nearly killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, was treated very different in the media and online. Despite the fact that, by all accounts, Gregg lost sight of her child for only a few seconds and had to be physically restrained from jumping into the enclosure after him, people tore her up online. Half a million people signed a petition to have her held criminally accountable even before all the details were out. 
Yesterday, I ran across this USA Today editorial opining on the differences between the two cases. It focused on the differences between gorillas and gators. A CNN story thought the difference was because of the venue. In fact, most of the stories that acknowledge the disproportionate response very carefully ignored the massive elephant in the room.
The Graves family are well-to-do. Pillars of the community. And white. Michelle Gregg and her son are black. 
Is it a race thing? Ranier Maningding writing for the Huffington Post makes a really compelling argument that it is. He points out
ALL OF THIS BULLSHIT is a way to disprove the humanity of Black parents — to prove that Black people aren’t responsible for themselves or their children. By doing this, we validate our legacy of oppression towards Black people.
I'm not sure how much is race and how much isn't. Maybe it's a gators vs. gorillas thing, maybe it's a venue thing - heck - maybe the massacre at Pulse has turned us into a more caring and compassionate people; at least for a news cycle or two.
But I find it just utterly bizarre that so many publications chose to completely ignore the racial element, even though so much of the cyber-bullying the Gregg family endured was overtly racist. Does white America just not see racism, or are we covering our eyes in the hopes that if we don't look at it it will cease to exist? 
Like, look at Charleston. After an openly white supremacist man made racist statements while killing black people in a black church, folks actually tried to argue this wasn't race-related. Why? What did anyone hope to accomplish by standing in the middle of a hurricane and swearing there is no such thing as rain. 
Is it a guilt thing? If we ignore the racism, we don't have to ignore our own culpability? Or maybe we think that if we acknowledge our privileges, someone will finally show up and take them away. Maybe we're afraid if we start seeing minorities as fully human, we'll drown in self-loathing for all the times we acted like they weren't. 
Or maybe we're just scared that, if minorities ever get out from under white America's thumb, they'll treat us just like we treated them. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What we talk about when we talk about terrorism

I've seen a lot of stuff on Facebook about how the Left is all bleeding-hearted about radical Islam and refuses to blame radical Islam for the attack at Pulse Night Club, and it leaves me wondering if there's something of a breakdown in communication.
So first, let's talk about the words "radical Islamic terrorism." Obama refuses to use those words, which his opponents claim is because he doesn't want to acknowledge that terrorists follow Islam. However, here's how Obama explained the policy in a speech at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism:
We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam... They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam. We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They’re terrorists.
We could debate the usefulness of this semantic tap dance in the face of a cabal of pure murderous evil, but what is not up for debate is the left's willingness to acknowledge the fact that terrorists like Omar Mateen embrace a radical form of Islam. We are all on the same page there.
I think that a lot of liberals, like me, are cautious in the way we talk about the radical Muslims behind terror attacks because most Americans don't seem to understand the difference between a radical Islamic terrorist and a person with brown skin. Every time an Islamic extremist carries out a terror attack, a spike in anti-Muslim hate crime follows, and the victims of those crimes are often not even Muslim.
I've also seen some memes on Facebook comparing the self-proclaimed Islamic State to Nazis, as if that's a case that needs to be made. I don't think that's a fair comparison. The so-called Islamic State seems significantly more evil to me, and much more dangerous. They have begun genocide campaigns against too many religious and ethnic groups to count. They torture and behead and rape and slaughter and force children to kill their families and inflict every evil imaginable on the innocent. Anyone on the Left who claims otherwise clearly hasn't read ISIS's own propaganda materials, in which they brag about doing just that.
However, some folks think that ISIS and Islam are the same thing. In fact, ISIS has declared that any Muslim who doesn't hold to their insane interpretation of scripture is an infidel who doesn't deserve to live. Most of ISIS's victims, in fact, have been other Muslims who belong to what it deems the wrong sects or ethnic groups.
Another mistaken belief I often see on Facebook is that Obama and the Democrats don't believe we should bomb ISIS. Actually, since 2014, America has carried out thousands of airstrikes against ISIS targets, killing about 26,000 ISIS fighters so far. The Left understands just how evil and dangerous ISIS is and they have taken action on this.

A great way to help ISIS out, if you're interested in doing so, is to lump all Muslims in with them. The vast majority of Muslims, especially Muslims in the United States, do not follow ISIS's interpretation of scripture and therefore deserve to suffer. And ISIS also knows that the more oppressed and marginalized Sunni Muslims feel, the more likely they are, like Omar Mateen, to become radicalized.
We all hate feeling powerless when tragedies like this occur. We think that hate and suspicion and retribution will make us feel safe again, but they won't. Hate can only beget more hate. You want to feel less powerless - have the audacity to love with all your heart. Speak out against hatred and bigotry. Stand up and speak even when you are quaking in fear. Love with all the fight left in your body. It seems like so little, but it is everything.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Hate is too great a burden to bear

This morning, failed presidential candidate Ted Cruz shared this heartwarming message of support to the LGBTQ community.
For all the Democrats who are loud champions of the gay and lesbian community whenever there is a culture battle waging, now is the opportunity to speak out against an ideology that calls for the murder of gays and lesbians... This is wrong, it is evil, and we must all stand against it. 
It's super touching that Ted Cruz is willing to speak out against violence against gays in a way that just happens to further his own political ends. I suppose this means he's sorry for that time a few months ago when he spoke at a convention organized by Kevin Swanson, who openly advocates, at every possible opportunity, the death penalty for gays.
Well I've got news for you, Ted Cruz. You can't drown us in your hate. 
"Love wins" wasn't just a slogan, it was a promise. The LGBTQ community and its allies have fought and died for the right to love. We will not fall to hate. 





Title is a quotation from MLK

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The judge said “there is less moral culpability attached to the defendant, who is ... intoxicated,” when he sentenced rapist Brock Turner to six months in jail, of which he'll probably serve three. Brock Turner is less morally culpable because he was drunk; Brock Turner's victim is responsible for her rape because she was drunk.
Brock Turner will spend maybe ninety days in jail because he has no significant history of violence; Brock Turner's victim deserves what she got because she has a history of getting drunk and having sex.
Brock Turner doesn't deserve jail at all, according to his dad, for his twenty minutes of "action"; after Turner's twenty minutes of action, his victim spent an entire night being probed and prodded, swabbed, penetrated, interviewed, photographed. A night of pain and humiliation which led to a year and a half of hashing and rehashing while the world watched and the defense probed and prodded and swabbed and penetrated every corner of her life to prove she deserved what she got.
On the stand the defense grilled the victim about every minute and second of the night of her assault; the press published his swimming stats. 
The press unanimously agrees that the men who stopped the assault are heroes, and certainly they are. But I've yet to read an article that calls the victim a hero. We're more impressed by the fact that two men stopped to see if a woman was okay than we are that a woman gave up a year and a half of her life, and all her privacy while the world watched and shook their heads over Brock Turner's dashed Olympic dreams.

Brock Turner's a rapist - a reprehensible piece of absolute shit who deserves so much worse than he'll ever get. But what about the rest of us? What about the fathers who make excuses and the mothers who want to know what she thought was going to happen? What about those of us who tell women how lucky they were to not be raped or wonder how any woman could have been so stupid... to walk home alone, to leave her drink unattended, to trust this man or that man? 
This is one of those times I'm not particularly proud to be a human being. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Alphabet soup

Once there was a part-time church janitor, Matt, who was very good at his job but happened to be illiterate. This became a problem when the church got a new pastor, who decided it was too big an inconvenience to give the janitor instructions verbally - he wanted to be able to give the janitor written instructions instead. Since Matt couldn't read, the pastor let him go. But Matt was a very good janitor. He soon started his own business - people don't care whether their plumber or roofer can read, only that he can do the job well and at a fair price. Soon the janitor had more work than he could handle, had to hire more employees, and before long was a very rich man. One day, a banker asked Matt to sign a contract, and Matt admitted, again, that he was illiterate. "Wow," said the banker, "you've accomplished so much. But think where you'd be if you'd learned to read." Matt replied "I'd be a part-time church janitor."
So that story might be a parable I heard in a sermon once, but here are a few real-life folks who didn't let illiteracy stop them from doing great things. 
Cherokee Indian Sequoyah, also known as George Guess, bears the distinction of being the only illiterate person known to have invented a written language. Until Sequoyah came along, Cherokee was a spoken language only. Sequoyah, a soldier for the U.S. in the early 1800s, saw white soldiers sending and receiving letters from their loved ones, and wished he and the other Cherokee soldiers could do the same. So he spent 12 years devising an 85-letter alphabet. He showed it to his tribal chiefs in 1821, and the alphabet was so simple and elegant that most members of the tribe had learned it within a year.
Incidentally, according to this account in John Lloyd and John Mitchinson's The Book of General Ignorance, Cherokee Indians don't call themselves Cherokee - they use the name Ani-Yunwiya. The word Cherokee might come from a Creek Indian word meaning people who speak another language or it might come from the Choctaw word for people who live in the mountains
Recently, scientists at London's ExCiteS Research Group realized that the Mbendjele hunter-gatherers of the Congo were way better at tracking the movements of animal populations and poaching activity in their rain forest, what with the fact that they live there and their survival depends on the ability to do so. So the groups have teamed up, using their combined resources to make the rain forest safer; the only stumbling block is that the Mbendjele don't have a written language. So scientists at ExCiteS have developed a mobile data collection app for cell phones and tablets that doesn't require reading or writing. So far, it's going great, and the names of non-literate scientists are starting to appear in scientific journal articles.
We all probably know a person or two who can only seem to write in text-speak. The way text-speak - or computer-mediated discourse as the linguists are calling it these days, makes this English major's skin crawl. It's just so horribly... wrong. Surely this trend is killing the English language as we know it, isn't it? The Christian Science Monitor once said of it:
As a dialect, text (“textese”?) is thin and unimaginative. It is bleak, bald, sad shorthand. Drab shrinktalk. The dialect has a few hieroglyphs (codes comprehensible only to initiates) and a range of face symbols. … Linguistically it’s all pig’s ear. … Texting is penmanship for illiterates.
Surely text-speak must make children less literate and inhibit their ability to communicate, right? So far, the research doesn't support that conclusion. Kids, on the whole, are quite adept at code switching - they generally know the contexts in which text-speak is appropriate and when it is not. In fact, computer mediated discourse actually seems to promote literacy

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