Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Fear of the Unknown

Monday morning I go back into MD Anderson for another set of tests. I’m one of the lucky ones; my cancer is under control with medication, the itty-bitty little monsters staying well below the 2-millimeter threshold that my oncologist tells me is when they start getting nasty. The tests are just to make sure.

I don’t feel much like a cancer patient. The medicine these days does not cause me to lose much hair, and I have gained weight over the last two years. Of course, that’s one of the odd things about pseudomyxoma peritonei; the little cysts build up in the abdominal fluid and block passage; if the cysts get too big, even if they don’t become aggressive they begin to choke off internal organs and the blood pressure goes through the roof real fast. That’s one of my warning signs; I check my BP every day and if it starts rising more than a little, I need to get into MDA ASAP. So patients with my condition tend to have what looks like a beer gut, from the excess abdominal fluid. Just something to think about the next time you want to comment on someone’s appearance.

So I was watching Patrick Swayze talk with Barbara Walter a couple days ago, and this guy is tough. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, dealing with chemo every day, but he’s working 12 hours a day to do his TV show, because he’s not giving in one inch to the thing that’s trying to kill him. No self-pity, no illusions either, he knows how it will end but he’s going out on his terms. I was impressed more than a little bit by Swayze, not least when he remarked that for all the people who mean well, if you try to claim you know how to cure any form of cancer you would be both very rich and very famous by now – so please stop selling ‘cures’ that just don’t exist. There’s a special place in hell, I think, for folks who abuse the hope of cancer patients. The media in large part belongs there as well, for focusing on the pain and suffering, and I agree with Swayze that the way the media played on his cancer as if he could die at any moment was cruelly insensitive to his family at a time when they needed reasons for hope and to keep their spirits up. I’m not saying you have to be cheerleaders, but if someone you know has cancer, then their family needs support and reassurance just as much as they do.

I was thinking of all this, because Dr. Lambert is leaving MD Anderson and going back to Massachusetts, to pass on what she learned as an associate professor of Oncology at MDA. My wife was worried that I would be assigned a doctor who was inexperienced or reckless, like my first oncologist. That fellow told my wife in 2006 that I had no hope for even effective treatment unless I agreed to a radical surgery which would have removed several organs, put me on a permanent colostomy, and which under the best of circumstances would have meant 3 months of hospitalization and at least a year before I could leave home on my own. He was, to put it mildly, mistaken. Fortunately, I was able to reassure Mikki that while Dr. Lambert was leaving, I was still going to MD Anderson and my doctor would be an MDA doctor. Turns out it’s Paul Mansfield, the Deputy Chair for Surgical Oncology at MDA. In other words, the doctor who taught Dr. Lambert how to treat PMP. So, very good hands.

Yet for all of that, I am just a little afraid. Afraid that this time they will find something again. That the surgery two years ago will turn out to have been just a temporary fix. That while things have been very good for the last two years, that it have been a reprieve, not a permanent thing. Some of that is because I am about to finish my MBA. The school work has gone very well for me, so much so that sometimes I worry what I have missed, or what could come along to make it all worthless. Silly, I suppose, but I suspect we all have those little fears, things we cannot see coming let alone control. And no matter how hard you work, it seems you’re never ready to let things be for whatever is to come. I need to have more faith, I know, but then again, once you’ve had the word ‘cancer’ told to you, cause unknown, prognosis unsure, even when you’re “better” you know you can never again go back to where you were before. The unknown has teeth, and it hides enemies within it. Yet you must face it, on its terms and time.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Abortion, Homosexuality, and Marriage

Some years back, a classroom instructor advised us that an audience would always be interested in sex. ‘Find a way to bring sex into it’, he promised, ‘and your audience will stay focused and enthusiastic’. Looking back, I would say that the poor gentleman probably had some wish fulfillment issues in that area, but even so I have to admit that many of today’s top issues have a clearly sexual component, particularly the volatile issues of Abortion, Homosexuality, and Marriage.

It seems very clear to me that the issues of Abortion, Homosexuality, and Marriage are heated because each side not only believes its position to be right, but that any other position is heinously immoral. This leads to the inevitable accusation that “they” must not even be human if they believe what they claim. Being compared to infernal monsters or sadists tends to make civil discussion difficult. For these issues, people seem to fall broadly into one of three camps – the liberal position, the conservative position, and the people who refuse to take a position and just want to be left alone. As a result, a few people end up speaking for everyone, and their positions are almost always extreme to one end or the other of the spectrum.

Abortion is a horrible thing to contemplate, the deliberate killing of a – what? For liberals, the woman concerned is the focus, pregnancy being a difficult process even when you are healthy and financially secure, and bringing up a child a long and arduous ordeal if you are not prepared for it and desire to be a mother. This is further complicated by a society which, let’s be honest, does not do much to compel biological fathers to meet their responsibilities. Aborting the fetus, to a liberal, is a difficult decision but a necessary option for women facing the burden of having and raising children they do not want and cannot care for. But for conservatives, the matter is not of removing a fetus, but killing a pre-natal infant, murder by any reasonable definition. For conservatives, people have rights according to their merits, and no one can hold a higher moral claim than a baby. So liberals focus on the woman, conservatives on the baby-to-be. Both sides believe the other is ignoring the proper balance of interests.

The biggest problem I find in trying to consider this issue, is the extremely personal nature of the situation. No one is likely to think through the decision to have an abortion or go through a pregnancy, until they are faced with the reality of a pregnancy. Therefore the matter is compounded by the emotions and stress of crisis, multiplied by the family and relationship conditions in place. Is the father ready to be a dad? Is the mother prepared to become a mother? Are the families supportive or critical? And then there are additional complications to consider. I leave off the ‘rape victim’ or ‘having the baby might kill the mother’ scenarios because they are really very uncommon, but it needs to be said that pregnancy is full of unforeseen conditions and risks. This is also one of my strongest complaints against abortion. Abortions are surgical procedures, which always carry a degree of medical risk to the woman having the abortion, in addition to a certain psychological trauma. Women have died having abortions, and others have committed suicide after having abortions. This is not to equate having an abortion to becoming clinically depressed, but the risk in such an operation must be recognized as well.

Homosexuality has long been treated socially and legally as unacceptable behavior. It has been grounds for dismissal, divorce, even incarceration, yet after thousands of years it still occurs in every sort of society and culture, even where efforts to eradicate homosexuality by force, like in Iran, are promoted. The plain fact is, on the one hand homosexuals will always be a small minority of the population, but on the other hand homosexuals will always exist in any substantial population. Conservatives would argue that personal conduct is a choice, and so homosexuals are not entitled to any special benefits simply for being homosexual. Liberals argue on the other hand that homosexuals are a demographic minority, who have rights like anyone else which are infringed by a majority society which marginalizes homosexuals. Both sides believe the other is trying to impose an intolerable social order.

It seems strange to me, sometimes, that conservatives should be unduly offended by homosexuality. That is, when it is practiced in the same way that most people practice heterosexual sex. So long as I am not the object of homosexual advances, what should I care what someone does in private with another consenting adult? Yes, there is the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, but that exists when someone is sexually promiscuous in any way, so it seems not to really be a problem on the personal level, stay out of risky behavior and you’re fine. Sure, some gays get into protests and such, but this is the same nation that allows Nazis to march and someone keeps paying money and giving TV shows to Rosie O’Donnell.

At the same time, I do think it’s inappropriate for gay special interest groups to try to influence kids in grade school. Look, I want my daughter to be tolerant and make her own decisions, but an 8-year-old does not to be indoctrinated in sexual conduct. Those discussions belong to the family, not the government anyway.

Marriage is in some ways a new battlefield, but in others an old one. Not so long ago, pretty much everyone accepted a definition of marriage that, more or less, was the same everywhere for everyone. Since no one was required to get married, it was a low-priority issue. That’s changed, with the push to grant first civil unions, then religiously-sanctioned marriage ceremonies, for same-sex couples. The problem comes from the question of who has the greater right, couples to be married if they decide to do so, or religious institutions to stay true to sworn ideals. The reason that the battlefield is in some ways an old one, is that the moral boundaries began to decay with the liberal advocacy of casual sex a generation ago. Sexual conduct has been a factor for half a century in changing attitudes about marriage. Remember the “open” marriage, wherein the vows were apparently optional when one partner so desired? Remember when they introduced the “no-fault” divorce, a ‘limited’ measure designed to remedy the bitter court fights and post-marriage feuds? The sanctity of marriage has been under attack for quite a while now, and it’s no accident. So now it should be no surprise that liberals want to redefine what a marriage is in the first place. That said, however, it is impossible for conservatives to compel the country to abide by the standards used in 1950. The question therefore, stands at hand – what makes a marriage, and who has the right to define its terms? For here and now, the best first step would be civil discussion with consideration of all reasonable perspectives. I have little confidence, however, that we are ready for that discussion as a nation.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Mindset I – Obama Versus the System

Most fair-minded people, whatever they think of his politics, hope that Barack Obama will be able to make his Hope/Change/NewLogo Administration all that he promised. After all, the fate of the free world and hundreds of millions of taxpayers depend to some degree on him. But President Obama is about to discover what Presidents Bush, Clinton, and even Reagan learned before him – that even the best ideas will be opposed by opponents unwilling to open their minds to the concept. The first real test for President Obama will not be with foreign leaders, but in getting his policies a fair hearing and getting public support for specific plans.

Republicans, understandably, are reluctant to show any interest in Obama’s proposals. They politely say they will look at them, but there is no active desire to support a man commonly seen as a political enemy, not only to Republican ideals but a threat to the personal ambition of leading Republicans. The President hands out appointments and nominations, and there is no chance at all that a man like Obama would give a conservative Republican any of the plum rewards he has at hand. But that opposition may cost Obama more than he expects, Not so long ago, the Republicans enjoyed the very same situation that the Democrats now hold; their man in the White House, having won with a clear majority of the popular vote, and control of both the House and Senate. Yet President Bush found it very hard to get his programs through the process, and some of his most important initiatives, like reforming Social Security and Medicare, never even made it out of committee.

The alert reader will, no doubt, be thinking at this point that some of the obstruction for W came from fellow Republicans. Indeed that is true, and President Obama must expect some of the same friendly-fire. Already, there have been indications that Speaker of the House Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid have their own plans and agendas, and Obama will find that he lacks the mojo to push his plans through the House and Senate without making deals with the mandarins who already positioned themselves in place for just that reason. As every president has learned before him, legislation comes out of Congress and you have to make allies to get anything done. The question to be answered is who will hold the reins in this coming term.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Obvious, Overdue

Utah should be the national champion in NCAA Division 1 football this year. No, I am not a fan of the Utes particularly, in fact I have not even seen them play a single game, but they hold a qualification unique in major college football; they are the only undefeated team among the major colleges. The 31-17 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama was Utah’s second BCS bowl win as an undefeated team in the last four years.

Yet the BCS committee has already decided that the winner of Thursday’s game between Oklahoma and Florida will be the National Champion. Never mind that both teams have lost a game and Utah has not, never mind that Utah beat 4th-ranked Alabama handily on both sides of the ball. Utah is not from the “right” conference, so even perfect is not good enough.

Some of the readers may suspect that I am not completely serious in selling Utah as the National Champion, and to a degree I agree that Utah does not strike me as a champion in the way that other teams might, but the NCAA has failed to allow the obvious resolution – let the contenders play for the title. Every other NCAA sport has playoffs to determine the champion, in fact every other level of football, from pee wee to the professional leagues has playoffs to decide the matter. Even the NCAA has playoffs for football – except for Division 1. There is simply no honest argument against having a playoff, and everyone knows it. And for all the noise from the schools which have tried to make the championship a Good-ol-Boys club reserved for the largest state schools, the facts are plain to anyone who has played the game.

1. Scoreboard trumps all other arguments
2. If you think your 1-loss team is the champ when someone else is undefeated, see rule 1.

So there you are. No one but Utah made it through the schedule without losing along the way. Utah beat Michigan at Ann Arbor to start the season, finished by beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and in between scored 40 or more points six times (30 or more ten times), and held four opponents to 10 points or less. But most of all, Utah won all of their games.


Should someone else be national champion? When there’s a playoff, we can have that discussion. For now, the NCAA has denied that obvious solution for more than a century, so no matter who gets the trophy from the con men from the NCAA, your national champion is Utah.

How’s that feel, Sooners? How’s that taste, Gators? You like that, Longhorns? It’s not a championship if you didn’t earn it. Listen to your fans and wake up your AD and scream for them to set up a playoff. It’s half past overdue.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Club at Play

This morning, the secretary of the United States Senate refused to allow Roland Burris entry to the Senate chambers.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White did not sign the certificate of appointment for Burris, which was the reason given by the Senate secretary. The real cause of the refusal to seat Burris is the obvious embarrassment by Democrats by Burris’ selection by Governor Blagojevich. Senate Majority Harry Reid is already on record opposing Burris, saying that there is a cloud over anyone that comes from the state of Illinois being appointed by Blagojevich."

I understand that Democrats do not much like seating anyone nominated by Governor Blagojevich, but the idea that the law can be so easily subverted should trouble everyone. Like it or not, Governor Blagojevich is just that, the legally-elected Governor for the state of Illinois, and by law he has the right to select anyone he deems qualified to finish the remainder of Senator Obama’s term. It is important to understand that at this moment in time, not only has Governor Blagojevich not been convicted of anything, he has not been impeached nor has he even formally responded yet to the accusations against him. Imagine the precedent set, if a governor’s nominee is rejected while the governor is in the full legal authority of his office, simply because the appointment is unpopular with other Senators.

The hypocrisy of refusing to seat Burris is all the more blatant by the shameful manipulations being played to seat Al Franken as the new Senator from Minnesota. I can accept that Franken may have won the election, Coleman’s protests notwithstanding, but the obvious corruption of the method used in the recount is appalling. The notion of seating anyone while the process is still underway is so deceitful as to be unthinkable, except of course that we are talking about politicians. The process being used to shove him into the seat is so unnatural that it may be apropos to address his larcenous person as Senator Frankenstein.

This should not be taken to mean that Democrats alone are crooks at play. No, let’s not forget Senators Craig and Stevens, whose personal conduct went unexamined, let alone condemned, so long as they looked politically adept. The Grand Old Party became the object of well-deserved scorn by voters, for talking up character and values while keeping such reprobates in its ranks. Let’s not forget that support for our esteemed members of the United States Senate has held steady at subterranean numbers so low that Richard Nixon’s nadir was a dozen points higher. It may be that America’s greatest enemy in the near future may not be a Middle-East terrorist organization, an oil cartel, or a foreign conglomerate out to buy our infrastructure – it may well be that, as so often in the past, the greatest threat to America’s future is its Senate.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Disappearing Act

According to AOL, there are ten companies which will disappear or fight through bankruptcy in 2009 to stay alive (link at the end). Without looking at the list, can you tell which of these companies are the ten AOL thinks are kaput?

[] AIG
[] Bancfirst Corp.
[] Bank of America
[] Calpine Corporation
[] Charter Communications
[] Chrysler
[] Constellation Energy
[] CVS
[] Dish Network
[] Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac
[] Ford
[] GM
[] Hovnanian
[] KB Homes
[] Los Angeles Times
[] Merrill Lynch
[] Moody’s Corp.
[] Newsweek
[] New York Times
[] Nortel
[] Owens Corning
[] Pier 1
[] Rite-Aid
[] Sirius XM
[] Skype
[] Walgreen’s
[] Washington Mutual

Here’s the AOL article on those companies. How’d you do? Are there companies that you think are more deserving of the axe?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Out Cold

I’m fighting a cold. The cold is winning easily right now.