All things weird and wonderful, 50

29 01 2015

Calceolaria uniflora, photo by Thomas Mathis

The website from which a got this image, Strange and Wonderful Things (a title after me own little heart), compares these funky little flowers to “little orange penguins marching over the rocks”—and yeah, I can see that.

But I see a bunch of old aunties in wide hats toting their bins back from the fields, or maybe the market.

Clouds are masses of frozen liquids suspended in the atmosphere, and one can use SCIENCE to determine how they form and what their shapes say about conditions in the atmosphere and that’s all for the good. Similarly, one can use the tools of SCIENCE to discover that c. uniflora is “distantly related to Foxglove and Generiads”, and that the flower is pollinated by birds who eat the white bits of the bloom.

But sometimes clouds are castles or armies or profiles of Abe Lincoln, and sometimes flowers are little orange penguins or bin-toting old aunties in wide hats.

~~~

h/t PZ Myers, Pharyngula





Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

26 01 2015

Yes, it’s January in New York, so cue the surprise at the prospect of snow.

I snark because I care.

Anyway, WNYC had a half-snarky/half-serious segment on the impending deluge, during which they asked what folks are doing to prep. One woman bought flowers.

Me? I’ll be hitting the gym in a few hours, as there might be issues* in getting to it tomorrow.

And milk, I need milk: I dunae like dry cereal.

Other than that, it’s winter in New York.

*The train system really does make a difference in my indifference: I don’t have to worry about the state of the roads in my travels. That said, the MTA is apparently planning to shut down some of the express lanes tomorrow and use them for train storage. (No, I don’t know what that’s about.) And while CUNY’s semester begins Wednesday, my class doesn’t meet until Thursday, so, again, I gots no reasons to fret.





Everbody knows that the captain lied, 16

19 01 2015

This seems like a singularly bad idea.

I mean, sure, the airlines are more than willing to screw over the lumpenproletariat mashed like potatoes into the cheap seats, but how will they deal with the haute bourgeoisie up front who number too few to gain priority over other flying buses?

And will they do these on an absolute or relative basis? Total number of first class seats sold or percentage of First-to-last class? Total dollar amounts spent on first class?

Or maybe this could be the greatest selling point (from the airlines’ point of view) for first-class seats since the invention of first-class seats: pay more to increase your odds of landing before the fuel runs out!

Now that’s service.





My dog reminds me of this whole world

19 01 2015

Death sucks.

I mean, I don’t what, if anything, it’s like for the dead, but for those who live past the dead, it sucks.

Two and a-half weeks ago, Jon Katz announced on his blog, Bedlam Farm, that his charming and ornery mule, Simon, had died.

Shortly thereafter, he noted that Lenore, the “Love Dog”, was out of sorts; she died less than a week after Simon.

Then, this morning, I popped over to Love & Hisses and found Robyn Anderson’s obit for her beautiful 5-year-old tabby, Corbie.

I cried for each of these creatures.

Yes, these are animals, not people, and these are not my animals—I had never met nor expected to meet any of them—but they were familiar to me, a presence, and now they are absent.

Such absence, of course, puts me in mind of my own critters—Chelsea and Bean, Jazz before them, and the family pets before them—and made me sad all over again.

While Katz doesn’t believe in the Rainbow Bridge, as Robyn does, he does believe that his animals will have a life beyond this life. I have no such belief in life beyond life—tho’, as an agnostic, I can’t/won’t completely rule it out—but understand the desire to believe that those who were here are not gone forever, but simply moved on to another place.

As a general matter, I consider death simply a part of our condition as living creatures: we are born into life and leave it at death, or, more succinctly, everything living, dies. For some it may come too soon, others, too late, and for some, as a relief.

I would like to live a while longer, but not everlastingly longer, and to have some sense of my death, when it does finally come. It will be my end, and I will be no more—a closing, not a loss.

No, the loss is for the living, when others are no more.





You’re bad for me I clearly get it

13 01 2015

So Mike Huckabee, who just quit his Fox gig to maybe kinda consider reflecting on the possibility of perhaps running for president, demonstrates his credentials for the post by criticizing not only Malia and Sasha Obama’s musical tastes, but her parents for allowing her to listen to  “mental poison”.

Who is the fiend behind such neuro-toxin?

Surely you know by now, but in case you don’t: Beyoncé!

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given that he had recently wondered if Jay-Z weren’t a “pimp” exploiting his “incredibly talented” (tho’ apparently intellectually-venomous) wife.

Max Lockie has the appropriate response to this.

On a not-unrelated note. . . man, I am so looking forward to the Republican primary.





It’s too late, baby

12 01 2015

Not only am I lazy, I am also a bossy broad.

Bossy and lazy: and I wonder why I don’t date!

Anyway, Amy Klein writes in aeon about her reluctance to tell her 42-year-old friend that it’s too late to begin thinking about freezing her eggs:

What I really want to tell my friend is that if she is serious about having a baby, her best bet would be to go out to the nearest bar and hook up with a stranger – during her 36-hour ovulation window, of course. But I won’t tell her to sleep with a random guy, I won’t ask if she ovulates regularly, nor will I say anything else about the state of her ticking – nearly stopped – biological clock: it’s too delicate a subject.

To which I can only say: if someone brings up her ovaries to me, then I’ma gonna go ahead and tell her that thinking and freezing are not going to get the job done—although I’d recommend a sperm bank rather than the local pub.

Will I also tell her that chances are she’s already infertile? That would depend on the course of the conversation, and, in any case, I’d tell her to talk to her OB-GYN.

Klein is right, however, that most women don’t know that, for most of them, the fertility window is closed by the early forties, and that it begins closing in the late-twenties/early-thirties. Fertility rates do decline throughout the thirties (entering a period of greater variability in the late thirties), but, again after 40 the decline is precipitous.

And IVF won’t help—not if you didn’t create embryos before entering your fifth decade. Yes, some women do conceive their own children throughout their forties, but, as Klein points out, all of those well-known women birthin’ babies at 48 or 50 are either using embryos frozen some time ago or someone else’s eggs. Liza Mundy has more about this in her terrific book, Everything Conceivable:

Studies show that among ART [assisted reproductive technologies] patients who are forty years old and using their own eggs, there is a 25 percent chance of pregnancy over the course of three IVF cycles. The chances diminish to around 18 percent at forty-one and forty-two, 10 percent at forty three, and zero at forty-six.

In 2005, a group of doctors at Cornell surveyed IVF patients over forty-five who had attempted to conceive using their own eggs. Among women between forty-six and forty-nine, not one get pregnant using her own eggs. (p. 42)

And, it should be noted, the odds are even worse for poorer and non-insured women of every age, who may have had untreated medical problems which interfere with or nullify their fertility.

Mundy and Klein both note that a previous attempt by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine to raise awareness that the biological clock only has so many ticks in its tocks caused controversy among (hangs her head in sorrow) some feminist groups (well, the National Organization for Women), for the “pressure” such information would place on women, making them “anxious about their bodies and guilty about their choices”.

(Do I mention here that loooooong ago I was a member of the Sheboygan chapter of NOW? Those women, who fought to bring Planned Parenthood to the county, who had been harassed and threatened, would have hooted then-prez Kim Gandy out of the room for thinking they would have been afraid of a little information.)

Klein quotes Naomi Cahn, author of Test Tube Families, who notes that

‘the politics of reproductive technology are deeply intertwined with the politics of reproduction’ but ‘although the reproductive rights issue has a long feminist genealogy, infertility does not’. Discussion of infertility is threatening to feminists on two levels, she contends: ‘First, it reinforces the importance of motherhood in women’s lives, and second, the spectre of infertility reinforces the difficulty of women’s “having it all”.’

That is not any reason, however, not to spread the word as far and wide as possible:

‘Shunning that information about the relationship between fertility and age, however, ignores biological facts and, ultimately, does a disservice to women both in terms of approaching their own fertility and in providing the legal structure necessary to provide meaning to reproductive choice,’ writes Cahn.

. . .

‘It is only with this information that reproductive choice becomes a meaningful concept,’ Cahn writes. ‘Choice cannot mean only legal control over the means not to have a baby, but must include legal control over the means to have a baby.’

Exactamundo.

It is sometimes pointed out that it is unfair that men have no legal say in whether a women chooses to continue or to end a pregnancy—and maybe it is, but it’s also how it is. Similarly, maybe it’s unfair that men remain fertile throughout their lives but women do not—and maybe it is, but it’s also how it is.

So better to say how it is (and the earlier the better) than pretend otherwise, so women have the knowledge, and the time, to make the choices that make sense for them.

And if we’ve got to be a little bossy to get the word out, well, then that’s how it is, too.





I got life

8 01 2015

Stipulated: Adults get to make whatever boneheaded medical decisions about themselves that they want.

Stipulated: Adults do not get to make whatever boneheaded medical decisions about their children that they want.

Question: Ought a 17-year-old be able to make a boneheaded medical decision about herself?

Cassandra C. is a 17-year-old with Hodgkin lymphoma, a disease which, when treated with chemotherapy, has a high (80-85%) survival rate. Cassandra initially underwent surgery, then two rounds of chemo, before deciding that while she wants to live, she wants to do so without, in the words of her mother, Jackie Fortin, putting “poison” in her body.

It’s not a stretch for a layperson to consider chemo a poison: the patient ingests the drugs with the idea that they will kill the cancer without killing her, and it is the lucky, lucky cancer patient who isn’t sickened by this treatment.

But it is a stretch to think that there exists some other, effective, non-poisonous treatment for Hodgkin’s, not least because there is no good evidence of its existence. Some (#notall. . .) alt-med folks may think oncologists are in league with pharma companies to hide cheap and easy cures to nasty diseases, but I highly doubt there is a conspiracy of cancer docs to keep effective treatments away from their patients just so they can profit from their suffering.

In any case, if Cassandra were 18, she could cease the chemo in search of those non-poisonous treatments, but at not-quite-17-and-a-half, she’s been confined to medical ward by Connecticut state officials and forced to undergo treatment; the Connecticut Supreme Court just reaffirmed that decision by those officials.

Art Caplan (from whom I took a class when he was at Minnesota) wrote a brief editorial that 17 is 17—that is, not 18, and therefore unable to medical decisions on her own behalf. I get the technical point (1718), but I’m not so sure that the consequentialist argument Caplan goes on to make—Hodgkin lymphoma is treatable—ought to carry the day.

After all, if she turned 18 tomorrow, the lymphoma would remain just as treatable, and the absence of that treatment would leave her just as dead.

Cassandra told the AP that

it disgusts her to have “such toxic harmful drugs” in her body and she’d like to explore alternative treatments. She said by text she understands “death is the outcome of refusing chemo” but believes in “the quality of my life, not the quantity.”

“Being forced into the surgery and chemo has traumatized me,” Cassandra wrote in her text. “I do believe I am mature enough to make the decision to refuse the chemo, but it shouldn’t be about maturity, it should be a given human right to decide what you want and don’t want for your own body.”

It is about maturity, actually; the difficulty is determining what counts as maturity?

Is it just about age? Reach 18 years and you’re mature; prior to that, not.

That has both the benefit and drawback of simplicity. It’s a straightforward standard, but one which, strictly applied, seems nonsensical, ascribing a substantive ethical property to passage of time : “January 1 you’re immature, but October 1 you’re mature.”

Age matters—if Cassandra were 10, I’d think there was no ethical problem—but largely as a stand-in for other properties, including the ability to make decisions.

So is maturity about decision-making ability? Well, okay, but what does this mean? Is this about making good (by whatever metric) decisions? And what if someone repeatedly makes bad (b.w.m.) decisions?

If their adults, and those decisions are of a non-criminal nature, we say, Okay, but largely because most of us don’t want to live in a society where we don’t get make decisions about our own lives. We assert the procedural right to decide, regardless of the content of the decision, because we’d rather make our own decisions (good and bad) than have others make them for us.

But teenagers, man, teenagers get to make some decisions and not others, and figuring out what decisions they get to make often does come down to the content of those decisions. If the kid makes good decisions (as determined by the parents), he’s given the leeway to make even more; if not, then not.

And thus the Connecticut Supreme Court has judged the procedural ability of Cassandra to make her own medical decisions on the content of those decisions: it thinks she’s decided badly, and as a result, ought not be able to decide at all.

I get this, I do, but I am made uneasy by it.  What if she had a different disease, with a much lower (40 percent? 30?) survival rate? What if the treatment were more disabling over the long-term? Or what if she doesn’t respond to the treatment? Is there any amount of suffering from the treatment that would lead the hospital to stop?

Or will they only stop when Cassandra turns 18, and is free to decide for herself, whatever the content of that decision?

This is a tough case, and I don’t know that the Court got it wrong. I just don’t know if they got it right, either.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,383 other followers