The heaviness, oh the heaviness

22 04 2014

Kathy’s death has really thrown me to the ground.

Chris‘s death was a surprise; Tracey‘s wasn’t.

Kathy’s was somewhere in-between: I’d known her cancer had recurred, but somehow didn’t think through what that meant. And because I didn’t think, I didn’t make the effort to contact her, to let her tell me how she was, to tell her how very much she meant to me.

With Chris and Tracey, things felt “even” somehow. Chris and I had been in at most indirect contact for years—with which we were apparently both okay—and C. and I did what we could to be with Tracey as she rounded that last curve.

They died too soon, but the loss is the loss of them, not also of unsaid words and unspent moments.

Not so with Kathy. I feel like I let her down, that there was something I could have given her that I withheld.

I don’t want to blow this out and make it sound as if  ‘but for me, she died alone’: Her family was with her at the end, and I’d bet her many friends and colleagues were with her before then. No, Kathy would not have been alone.

And yet, I would have liked to have given back to her at least some of what she gave to me. She deserved that.





Kathleen Cranley Glass, 1942-2014

20 04 2014

Kathy was kind. She was smart, and she was tough.

But what I will remember, first, is that she was kind.

She was in charge of the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill during my postdoc, and while I think I spoke to her on the phone before moving to Montréal, I hadn’t met her before then. I was going to fly up to Montréal to look for an apartment, but she’d assured me that I could find a place upon arrival.

In all my years of knowing her, that might have been the only time she gave me bad advice. (Well, that and suggesting that if I liked Montréal, I’d probably like Boston, too.)

In every other way, however, Kathy was as fine a guide into bioethics and Québec as I could have hoped for. She and her husband Leon invited me over for dinner more times than I could count—in fact, I stayed with them a good chunk of the time I was looking for an apartment—and took me hiking outside of the city, and to various festivals within it.

She also tried to convince me that Montréal bagels were as good as New York bagels, but that didn’t take. (Montréal bagels are fine—and, honestly, given how pillowy so many NY bagels have become of late, certainly the better size—but a bit too sweet for my taste.)

Mostly, though, I remember the many long conversations with her in her office, first in the old building on Peel, then in her corner office in the building on the other side of the street. I’d have been in my office at the end of the day and have wandered over to hers to say goodbye, then end up staying for an hour or two as we talked about ethics and genetics and politics and music and memory.

She was generous with her time and with herself.

Again, she was kind as she worked her way through her and my thoughts, but it was through these long conversations, as well as in our various BMU meetings, seminar, and colloquia, that her tough-mindedness revealed itself. It was so easy to skip past the basics, but Kathy always returned to them, and to the basic necessity of patient and subject protection.

That was Kathy’s abiding concern: how to take care of people, be they patients at the Children’s Hospital, where she served as a clinical ethicist, or when writing about subjects in clinical trials. She and her colleagues (including Stan Shapiro and Charles Weijer) returned again and again to the necessity of clinical equipoise in research trials, especially in regards to trials of psychoactive medications.

All too often psychiatric patients would be—are—offered fewer subjects-protections than other similarly seriously ill patient-subjects: instead of testing new treatments against current ones, researchers test the investigational drug against. . . nothing. Not only will this skew the results by inflating the effects of the drug—which is bad enough—but subjects who might otherwise benefit from current treatments are denied them, and thus, suffer as a direct and entirely predictable result of their participation in the trial.

This, as Kathy would note, is a textbook definition of unethical research.

She and Stan focused on psychiatric patients, but Kathy’s research ranged widely across bioethics and included considerations of genetic and stem cell research. She worked with Bartha Knoppers at the Université de Montréal and Françoise Baylis at Dalhousie in trying to come to grips with the then-novel human embryonic stem cell research.

Bartha and Françoise can be aggressive in argumentation—I am like them in that respect—but Kathy was not one to be flattened by fast-rolling words. She was too acute a thinker.

This is what I missed, at first. Her kindness, her gentleness, was so immediately apparent, that I made the mistake I too often made: that a softness means weakness.

She was soft; she was also sharp. There was no contradiction.

That is a lesson I’m still learning.

I am so sorry that I will never be able to tell her how much she meant to me, personally and intellectually. I am a better thinker for having known her, and a better teacher for having taught alongside her. She is, and will remain, a touchstone. I will miss her for the rest of my life.

She died at home, among her family, April 12. Rest in peace, Kathy.

Thanks to Jonathan Kimmelman for tracking me down and notifying me of Kathy’s death.





To the top of gravity

15 04 2014

Ta-Nehisi Coates wants to teach his students to write honestly.

I said, Well, yes, but. . . .

To which he replied, Sure, and. . . .

It’s marvelous to tell writers to write the naked truth, to get the courage to strip oneself naked by remembering that everyone else is naked, too.

Human condition: a talisman for bravery.

Except that, well, maybe not so much “Except that” as “In addition to” the call to honesty one must remind the student-writers to be brave, that honesty often requires bravery, because honesty is a hard good to handle.

To be honest requires bravery because you might get your teeth kicked in.

It is also the case that to be honest can be, as I put it, “giddifying”: you are loosed from yourself as helium bubbles pop through your skin and you can’t quite believe that the words you wrote and are about to send out are your words meant for everyone. You have broken the sound barrier and speed of light and are now stretching beyond time.

You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. I’m being honest, at least how I can feel after having written: discombobulated and disoriented and blinking and wondering just where the gravity went.

Not always, not most times. But sometimes, still.

Such a glorious sensation: I’d chase it forever if it weren’t so unreliable.

Or I, braver.





Shmatta, shmatta, shmatta

13 04 2014

1. Sometimes free  cost too much.

Exhibit A: Under My Skin preview. Boy o boy o boy. The actors were. . . fine, given the script, but that script? Holy hell.

2. I’d stopped bitching about Bones because I’d given up expecting anything better than it had become. I still watched it, though, out of some, lingering, interest.

No more. It’s sliding down, losing whatever bits of charm it had retained. When Fox decides to lay those tired bones down I’ll probably watch the finale, but between now and that day in 2025, I’m out.

3. Oh thou fookin’ Zeus! DO NOT CUT YOUR NAILS ON THE TRAIN! In which of the multiverses is it OKAY TO CUT YOUR NAILS ON THE TRAIN?

None of them! That’s how many: NONE OF THEM!

4. To end on a good note: I finally got out my bike to ride to the gym yesterday.

Last year, I rode all winter, but this year the snow gave me the excuse I needed not to bundle up against the cold.

I’d been biking at the gym—(ma-)lingering health issues have kept me off the treadmill—but I’d much rather peddle my way somewhere than nowhere.

And look, I even refrained from using the requisite Talking Heads lyric. . . .





Here kitty kitty

10 04 2014

Jasper, who normally leaves me to eat my meals in peace, will grab my plate and try to stick his nose into my food whenever I eat one of my spicy homemade bean or mushroom burritos.

I know it’s the spice which draws him: when I spritzed my plants with a capsaicin spray to deter him from munching on the leaves, he responded by munching avidly.

Trickster, on the other hand, prefers dairy products: yogurt (both Greek and regular), and Parmesan—or, in a pinch, Asiago or Pecorino Romano—cheese. She’s also a water baby who likes to drink from the droplets dripping down her face.

Weirdos.





We’re still marching toward Algiers

9 04 2014

“Is it spring break yet? No? Christ.”





I’m free to do what I want any old time

3 04 2014

I don’t care about Mozilla.

I don’t care that they hired Brendan Eich as CEO, and I don’t care that he resigned.

For the record, my browser is Firefox. If a better open-source alternative comes along, I”ll flick that switch—the browser has freeze issues and, of course, brand loyalty is for suckers—but there was nothing about the Brendan Eich scandale that made me want to switch. Mainly because I thought there was no scandale.

Oh, a CEO is an asshole? Surprise! I bet the CEOs of all of the companies which products I purchase are assholes. Nature of the beast.

But let’s get serious: Is this about who can best lead a company which has to compete for workers from a workforce which is generally pro-gay rights? About just desserts for a man who sought to strip rights from his neighbors and fellow citizens? About illiberal leftists suppressing speech? About gay mafiosi threatening to scour the corporate world clean of any queer-rights deviationists?

Yes? No?

There are no free speech or any other rights in the workplace. You can be fired for voting for the wrong guy, criticizing someone the boss likes, for gaining weight, because the shareholders want to enrich themselves by laying off you or tens or hundreds or thousands of workers, and just for you being you.

And I’m supposed to rend my garments because some asshole found out he didn’t have any more protections than the people who work for him?

There may be a scandal in all of this, but it ain’t what happened to Brandon Eich.








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