Thursday, June 30, 2005

How We Could Believe the President

Department of Wild Schemes

I did not watch the President's speech on Iraq because I didn't expect him to say anything new. I was also a little embarrassed that he had to make the speech at all. I understand that it was one of his best efforts and had no immediate political impact. Maybe it will at least show that he knows the people are worried and halt his slide in the polls.

I am disappointed that the American people are waffling here. Surely few among them expected this war to be easy. Now that we are getting a chance to see the hard core of evil in the enemy's heart, we should be all that much more determined to protect the Iraqi people, to see this thing through. I’ve got to tell you, I don’t want to see the helicopters taking off from the embassy, overflowing with desperate people trying to avoid the coming bloodbath. Wake up! No matter how well we do on the battlefield, faint hearts at home can lose this thing.

People that think we are as morally culpable as the insurgents have succumbed to paranoia and conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories tend to be the province of unconnected people, people who have no power and no intercessory connection to power, people who live in the echo chamber, surrounded by those who speak only the correct words. Paranoia is the mental state associated with lack of information. When you see the world pass you by, when actions of others make no sense within your worldview, that's when paranoia creeps in. When others are inside your OODA loop and you don’t know whether you can trust them, that’s when it strikes deep.

It comes back to the Tyranny of Bandwidth. The partisan channel stuffing has separated us from our leaders. There are reasons that the Founders made this a Republic rather than a Democracy. The government must be representative, knowledgeable and empowered to act, but it’s not working any longer. Today the government can’t afford to govern. They are forced into living for the polls, conforming to the l.c.d. of conventional wisdom. The people, without meaning to, are taking the choices away one by one. No government can pursue an agenda because we don’t trust the government, and partisans prefer it that way. Better no progress than allowing your opponent to take credit. You can’t talk about Social Security, because it’s the Third Rail. You can’t talk about healthcare, because Harry and Louise will object. You can’t talk about schools, or subsidies, or foreign aid. You can, however, advocate creationist teaching and flag-burning amendments because that stuff appeals to the popular sentiment. In summary, you can’t make a strategic decision without being inundated by second-guessers and political cutthroats.

My proposal to address this problem is to establish a Shadow Congress whose sole purpose is to listen to the President and Congress and report to the people on what it all means. The members, required to have Top Secret clearance, would also have to take an oath to pursue no other elected office and to hold all details and secrets confidential. They would have no authority to propose legislation or subpoena witnesses. They would be simply a repository of trust, kind of like judges, but with more scope and a mandate to apply common sense to political problems. If the President or Congress wished to convince the American people of some strategy, initiative or proposal they could explain it in detail to appropriate committees of the Shadow Congress. The Shadow Congress would then be empowered to release a statement to the People as to whether the reasoning behind the proposal would be considered credible and ethical to the average citizen, assuming the citizen were to acquire the necessary background. They would also be empowered to comment, as a group, on the veracity of public statements made by any member of the Congress or Executive. Think of it as a permanent blue ribbon committee, a focus group with clout.

The President, in his current quandary, could address his problem to the Shadow Congress, explaining his strategy to a group that could understand it and demonstrating progress without fear of leaking state secrets. I believe that the Public would be satisfied, for the most part, to know that trusted representatives (as opposed to Congress) accepted the President’s plans and felt that his assessment of progress was reasonable.

6/30/2005 11:34 PM

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Approval Measures My Way

Amazon has a rating for its books where it combines all the customer reviews to obtain an average rating on a scale from 1 to 5 stars. This is all well and good. A high average or a low average would tell me something useful about the book. Middling reviews, however, fall into two distinct classes. The first class is that of good, but uninspiring books. The second class is that of controversial books, regardless of technical merit.

The average rating in Amazon is informative. They also give the number of reviews, which is probably a better indicator of interest value. Amazon will shade part of a star to give a little more precision. I've seen some approval ratings that give a decimal point, e.g. 4.3 stars out of 5. I kind of like that better. What I'd really like to see (sorry to force this on you) are the standard deviations. I'd kind of like to see standard deviations on every composite measure I see (maybe even a box and whiskers chart <----[===]----->).

You may remain unconvinced, but consider: A four-star book with a standard deviation of 0.8 stars is relatively non-threatening. A four-star book with a standard deviation of 1.5 stars may just be too hot to handle. And a three-star book with a standard deviation of 2.0 stars will blow off the shelves, because it’s by or about the Clintons.

6/30/2005 9:07 AM

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

WOT Strategy

Donald Sensing has a convincing analysis of the general strategy we are applying in the (poorly named) Global War on Terror. He is a military man, a committed Christian and a very smart man.

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Complex Unknowns

Here is a 3-D chart showing the dependence of atmospheric CO2 on season and hemisphere. I find the shape of this chart very surprising, and somewhat disturbing. Disturbing because of our revealed ignorance. The Earth is a complex system with feedback loops that we don't understand. If a certain combination of conditions, such as the complete melting of European glaciers (as an example), were to arise, it might trigger a cybernetically positive feedback loop, a runaway situation where the outcome can be characterized only by chaos theory and catastrophic cusps.

In the War of the Worlds, we will not be running from Martians, but rather from the things we have done to ourselves.

6/29/2005 3:58 PM

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Napoleon Will Shine

The Brits are celebrating Nelson's victory at la bataille de Trafalgar. The French have pulled out all the stops, sending the mighty Charles de Gaulle to witness the reenactment festivities. The British side is gratified but can't seem to understand why the French would be willing to do this, after all, it was a great disaster for Napoleon, n'est-ce pas?

Well no, not actually. Napoleon had already given up on invading England, and the French got even by shooting Nelson. Honor was restored. Now here's the real reason the French were so gallant. There are going to be 10 more years of these celebrations, and the British only get to look good again in 2015. Meanwhile, Napoleon will shine like the grand foolish genius that he was.

When I visited Napoleon's tomb in Paris, I saw some tourists from the U.K behaving a bit strangely. They oohed and aahed at everything like normal tourists, but when they came to view the ornate tomb below, they stood like statues with odd looks on their faces. I was puzzled until someone explained that they want to look at the tomb, but without bowing their heads. It has been suggested that the French did this deliberately.

6/29/2005 2:35 PM

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Work of Surviving -- Xeloda Advice

My family and I spent a few days with my friend who has breast cancer. She is not doing too well now, but she has been up and down for many years, fifteen years I think. I know it sounds strange, but I am somewhat envious of her. She loves life and gets excitement and enjoyment out of every bit of it. It's not that she has changed because of the cancer. She has always loved life, and she's been doing her best to hold onto it. Sometimes she gets her dark moods, but never weak moods.
I think she's been to every doctor in the Western Hemisphere and a few in the eastern. She is constantly doing research and making lists of questions. Sometimes she tells the doctors things they didn't know.
Her pet peeve is the ignorance doctors seem to have regarding the daily struggles that patients face. She has, according to her own story, and I believe it, lasted longer on Xeloda, a particular chemotherapy, than anyone else. The side effects are nasty and she has learned to manage them. Since, she feels, the doctors are not doing a good job of helping patients with these problems, she would like to share her insights. She has written a document that she has been xeroxing and handing out to likely candidates, or leaving in doctor's offices, and mailing to any who ask.
It has become more difficult for her to keep up with this process, and she is currently on a triple cocktail of new chemo drugs, so I offered to post it on my blog for her. I will post it below until I find a better home for it. I will be glad to forward messages and or questions if I find them appropriate.
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Posted Document by M.:

As a breast cancer patient who has survived nearly 8 years of chemotherapy since the metastatic spread of my disease, I have a complaint to make about cancer treatment: often patients are not adequately informed about the process of taking a specific drug. Doctors (or their physician assistants) in some instances for certain drugs need to be very detailed and almost create a recipe for successful taking of the drug. While sitting in waiting rooms, I have chatted with people in all phases of treatment. Many complain and insist "I can not take this drug. . . the side effects are too bad". We humans are all different and our bodies certainly respond differently to drugs, but I would think a few guidelines are needed. The purpose of this paper is to provide step-by-step instructions for the successful administration of the drug Xeloda or Capecitabine.
The cancer patient unfamiliar with Xeloda might imagine that taking chemotherapy by pill would be considerably more convenient than taking weekly injections . There would be need for one less needle puncture! However,the initial adjustment to the drug Xeloda is not like swallowing an aspirin and letting it do its thing.
As with many of the chemo drugs, establishing the effective and tolerable dose for a specific patient is not an exact equation and sometimes various dosages must be tried. Doctors establish an initial dosage by using your body weight. Often this initial dosage must be adjusted. Do not give up if your first dosage sends your body into physical despair. My body actually developed Parkinsons-like symptoms when I took the initial dose. I mean by this that all my muscles got very weak…most especially and noticeably my tongue—I could not speak, I could not swallow so I dribbled, my eyes teared and could hardly be made to focus. I scribbled in nigh illegible handwriting "I think I have had a stroke." Even though my mind was functioning and I knew everything that was happening, I felt like a viewer of my own strange condition. My family checked me into the emergency room expecting them to arrest my stroke. In short order, the ER folks assured me that this was not the case. I lay on their gurney for 5 hours being monitored and then they sent me home. The ER doctor said" Do not take any more of that drug until you speak to your medical oncologist who prescribed it." When I visited my regular oncologist his first response was "Discontinue the drug." I insisted that I did not want to give up taking this drug. I knew that it might be my last possibility for survival. Finally he said "Okay, one more attempt. Reduce the dosage by half and then work your dosage back up." At 1300 mg., the same horrible set of symptoms returned. I reduced the dose back one small 150 mg pill to 1100 and that is the dosage I took for two years. Very few people get this side effect—only 2%.
I knew that with my advancing breast cancer I had to be able to take this drug. I was not only tremendously determined, but also afraid of this drug that had the potential to extend my life. I experimented with methods and times to take it. The brochure that my doctor gave me informed me that this medication should always be taken with food twice a day. Even a simple stipulation like this required more attention than I initially imagined.
For example, when I first began the medication I was taking it twice a day with several swallows of food. One vomitous experience made me want to discontinue this drug. I had to try again. From then on I took the medicine with a pretty substantial meal. No more few swallows of whatever. I had a meal. Two staples that I included in my diet were cheese and kefir. The latter is a yogurty-like beverage that is high in protein. Our bodies need much protein to rebuild cells that the chemo destroys. Cheese helps me to avoid chemo-induced diarrhea.
Eating was one thing, drinking was another. Xeloda is a heavy duty medicine and I figured it had to be hard on the kidneys. I always chased my pills with two 8 ounce glasses of plain water.
I forced water the rest of the day. I got myself a big water bottle and it became my constant companion. Obviously, this necessitates frequent urination and that takes some planning. Coffee and soda and most juices were eliminated from my fluid diet.
The timing for administering the drug was also crucial. If I took Xeloda with a late breakfast and an early supper, an 8-10 hour spread , I was in trouble. Too little space between doses and I was overdosing and feeling as though my stomach could not hold itself together. I rearranged my schedule. A twelve hour spread was the allotment which allowed me to feel the best. I took my pills at breakfast at 6:30am and again at supper at 6:30pm. I carried spare pills and food and water with me. If it was 6:30 and I was on the subway, I whipped out my apple and cheese or banana and nuts. You must carry enough to cover for unscheduled interruptions in your meal plan. This medicine worked for me if I worked it that way.
Xeloda causes a very aggravating side effect called " hand-and-foot syndrome" (technically known as Palmar-Plantar Erythrodysesthesia).
My doctor described it as "inflamed capillaries." No one in the medical establishment seems to know how to prevent this burning hand and foot condition. I found an article written by a nurse. I raced through it looking for specific instructions about how to eliminate or reduce this symptom. To my dismay there were none. I called her on the phone and asked "Well what can we do?" "Nothing" she responds "Just stay off your feet and don’t use your hands." Great! What a life I thought. My extremities felt hot and burning. I told my doctor maybe if I put them on ice that would cool them off. "No, no" he emphatically proclaimed, "that will make it worse. Use Bag Balm cream like farmers use on the udders of cows. " That was too greasy and it did not take away the burn. Big half dollar sized pieces of skin would peel off my feet if I used nothing. I asked my doctor again. He went to a dermatologist and came back with a prescription for LAC-lotion (ammonium lactate). I now smear this magic lotion on my hands and feet 5-6 times a day. It absorbs very thoroughly and fast. I usually wear white socks under colored ones. The dyes on colored socks , I figured, could cause trouble in the open cracks in my skin . Removing socks and juicing up makes life effortful and somewhat ridiculous, but you must do it if you want to take this medicine. LAC-lotion only prevents the pain caused by shrinking skin. It does not take away the burn. Its use allows the skin to retain its elasticity and not peel off. This prevents the danger of infection. It also feels much better if it is flexible skin rather than a tight shrinking glove. I walk on my feet a reasonable amount in an effort to prevent the body from losing all its muscle tone. In a museum, I try to use common sense and have occasionally allowed myself to be driven around on a wheelchair.
I continue to do things with my hands. Certain tasks require special precautions. For example, I wear cement layer’s gloves purchased at the hardware store when I scrub the floor. I have another pair to do dishes. In the garden I use a heavy pair of mud gloves. I try never to get in prickly plants that could plant a thorn in me.
B-6 is a vitamin to remember if you take Xeloda. Xeloda seriously depletes your body of this vitamin. I have bottles of vitamin B-6 stashed in the car, in the upstairs bathroom, at the dinner table and in my purse. I buy 50 mg tablets, bite them in half and swallow a lot of water. I do this 4-5 times a day. If I don’t, my energy slips away and my thinking gets foggy. The hand-foot syndrome worsens without it also.
The protocol for Xeloda requires taking the pills twice a day for 2 weeks and taking none for one week. Then you start back up again. This is a serious chemotherapy drug and, like all, you must be vigilant. Many patients can not make it through the whole two week period. That is no reason to despair. If you are only able to manage 9 days, stop. The pain in the stomach (probably from too little food) is the major reason to stop. Doctors are, I think, too quick to permit you to stop if your feet look red. As long as they are not cracking open (because you are using your cream) try to ignore the pain. Do not , as so many I have known , dwell on this condition. Remember: your very life may depend on your being able to take this medicine.
After taking Xeloda for 4 or 5 rounds, you may discover that the hand-foot-syndrome may actually worsen during the weeks off the drug. My stomach seems to knot up the first day off the drug, too. I have grown accustomed to that feeling now and have learned to say "Oh, yeah today is the first day off the Xeloda."
One of the most irksome attributes of Xeloda therapy, is the bottomless sense of tired that results from the least exertion. Walking seems to use up your total energy. It almost makes you breathless—especially the two weeks when you are actually consuming the pills. Ask a friend to help you get a disability parking sticker. Go to the customer service center at the front of your grocery store and request that they send someone to the back of the store for that item you want.
You must modify your style if you are taking Xeloda.
Many of us race around in the morning trying to get out the door to work. Well, that racing is impossible on Xeloda. You must plan ahead. Arrange your clothes and prepare your lunch the nite before. Ask your spouse or friend to gas up your car. Allow others to do for you. Friends and family want to feel useful instead of helpless.
Sometimes you have to give up activities. For example, I regrettably gave up making porcelain pottery on the potter’s wheel. My hands were prone to cracking now and I figured it would be asking for trouble if I left bacteria from the clay seep into my hands. I took up beading instead. When I had not only physical energy but also creative energy, I assembled necklaces and bracelets as thank you presents for my helpful friends.
Just like selecting the battles we want to fight in life, the Xeloda patient must select his/her activities and energy-expending actions carefully. Some people absolutely must have a perfect physical environment. Objects and newspapers must be in their assigned locations. Okay you can give up your gardening time and keep the house perfect. If gardening feeds your soul and tidying doesn’t you may choose to sacrifice tidying and/or reduce your standards. You may have to choose between washing the windows or spending those sacred two hours with a gang of friends sharing a movie and conversation. A cancer diagnosis makes one cherish every moment. Xeloda forces one to seriously evaluate his/her use of time and energy.
One must carefully gauge one’s need for rest when on Xeloda. I have an inflatable mattress at work. I change my plans according to how tired I am. I gave away my precious ticket to the Neil Diamond concert. I knew it would take more energy than I had that day. Furthermore, my white blood cell count was low and I did not want exposure to all those germs from the university students who had just returned from venues all over this germ filled world. I started to go to less congested and free student concerts –when my energy was up.
Capecitabine, the scientific name for Xeloda, works havoc on rapidly reproducing membranes. For my dried out nose I buy cheap saline nasal spray. For my cracking lips I resort to lip moisturizing therapy. Because of lack of energy I confess I do not brush my teeth as often as I once did. I do try to keep my mouth clean by swishing water from one cheek to the other when I can’t brush. Mouth sores are a very common chemotherapy problem. Do not let them get to be problematic. Be vigilant and tell your doctor’s office as soon as you sense one coming.
Everybody’s body chemistry is different, so one never knows exactly what to expect. Some of us are allergic to dog hair and some to cat hair. I have included here the lessons that I have learned from my body over the 2-3 years I have been taking Xeloda. My hope is that some of my tips will help you. If not, be inventive
As a breast cancer patient who has survived nearly 8 years of chemotherapy since the metastatic spread of my disease, I have a complaint to make about cancer treatment: often patients are not adequately informed about the process of taking a specific drug. Doctors (or their physician assistants) in some instances for certain drugs need to be very detailed and almost create a recipe for successful taking of the drug. While sitting in waiting rooms, I have chatted with people in all phases of treatment. Many complain and insist "I can not take this drug. . . the side effects are too bad". We humans are all different and our bodies certainly respond differently to drugs, but I would think a few guidelines are needed. The purpose of this paper is to provide step-by-step instructions for the successful administration of the drug Xeloda or Capecitabine.
The cancer patient unfamiliar with Xeloda might imagine that taking chemotherapy by pill would be considerably more convenient than taking weekly injections . There would be need for one less needle puncture! However,the initial adjustment to the drug Xeloda is not like swallowing an aspirin and letting it do its thing.
As with many of the chemo drugs, establishing the effective and tolerable dose for a specific patient is not an exact equation and sometimes various dosages must be tried. Doctors establish an initial dosage by using your body weight. Often this initial dosage must be adjusted. Do not give up if your first dosage sends your body into physical despair. My body actually developed Parkinsons-like symptoms when I took the initial dose. I mean by this that all my muscles got very weak…most especially and noticeably my tongue—I could not speak, I could not swallow so I dribbled, my eyes teared and could hardly be made to focus. I scribbled in nigh illegible handwriting "I think I have had a stroke." Even though my mind was functioning and I knew everything that was happening, I felt like a viewer of my own strange condition. My family checked me into the emergency room expecting them to arrest my stroke. In short order, the ER folks assured me that this was not the case. I lay on their gurney for 5 hours being monitored and then they sent me home. The ER doctor said" Do not take any more of that drug until you speak to your medical oncologist who prescribed it." When I visited my regular oncologist his first response was "Discontinue the drug." I insisted that I did not want to give up taking this drug. I knew that it might be my last possibility for survival. Finally he said "Okay, one more attempt. Reduce the dosage by half and then work your dosage back up." At 1300 mg., the same horrible set of symptoms returned. I reduced the dose back one small 150 mg pill to 1100 and that is the dosage I took for two years. Very few people get this side effect—only 2%.
I knew that with my advancing breast cancer I had to be able to take this drug. I was not only tremendously determined, but also afraid of this drug that had the potential to extend my life. I experimented with methods and times to take it. The brochure that my doctor gave me informed me that this medication should always be taken with food twice a day. Even a simple stipulation like this required more attention than I initially imagined.
For example, when I first began the medication I was taking it twice a day with several swallows of food. One vomitous experience made me want to discontinue this drug. I had to try again. From then on I took the medicine with a pretty substantial meal. No more few swallows of whatever. I had a meal. Two staples that I included in my diet were cheese and kefir. The latter is a yogurty-like beverage that is high in protein. Our bodies need much protein to rebuild cells that the chemo destroys. Cheese helps me to avoid chemo-induced diarrhea.
Eating was one thing, drinking was another. Xeloda is a heavy duty medicine and I figured it had to be hard on the kidneys. I always chased my pills with two 8 ounce glasses of plain water.
I forced water the rest of the day. I got myself a big water bottle and it became my constant companion. Obviously, this necessitates frequent urination and that takes some planning. Coffee and soda and most juices were eliminated from my fluid diet.
The timing for administering the drug was also crucial. If I took Xeloda with a late breakfast and an early supper, an 8-10 hour spread , I was in trouble. Too little space between doses and I was overdosing and feeling as though my stomach could not hold itself together. I rearranged my schedule. A twelve hour spread was the allotment which allowed me to feel the best. I took my pills at breakfast at 6:30am and again at supper at 6:30pm. I carried spare pills and food and water with me. If it was 6:30 and I was on the subway, I whipped out my apple and cheese or banana and nuts. You must carry enough to cover for unscheduled interruptions in your meal plan. This medicine worked for me if I worked it that way.
Xeloda causes a very aggravating side effect called " hand-and-foot syndrome" (technically known as Palmar-Plantar Erythrodysesthesia).
My doctor described it as "inflamed capillaries." No one in the medical establishment seems to know how to prevent this burning hand and foot condition. I found an article written by a nurse. I raced through it looking for specific instructions about how to eliminate or reduce this symptom. To my dismay there were none. I called her on the phone and asked "Well what can we do?" "Nothing" she responds "Just stay off your feet and don’t use your hands." Great! What a life I thought. My extremities felt hot and burning. I told my doctor maybe if I put them on ice that would cool them off. "No, no" he emphatically proclaimed, "that will make it worse. Use Bag Balm cream like farmers use on the udders of cows. " That was too greasy and it did not take away the burn. Big half dollar sized pieces of skin would peel off my feet if I used nothing. I asked my doctor again. He went to a dermatologist and came back with a prescription for LAC-lotion (ammonium lactate). I now smear this magic lotion on my hands and feet 5-6 times a day. It absorbs very thoroughly and fast. I usually wear white socks under colored ones. The dyes on colored socks , I figured, could cause trouble in the open cracks in my skin . Removing socks and juicing up makes life effortful and somewhat ridiculous, but you must do it if you want to take this medicine. LAC-lotion only prevents the pain caused by shrinking skin. It does not take away the burn. Its use allows the skin to retain its elasticity and not peel off. This prevents the danger of infection. It also feels much better if it is flexible skin rather than a tight shrinking glove. I walk on my feet a reasonable amount in an effort to prevent the body from losing all its muscle tone. In a museum, I try to use common sense and have occasionally allowed myself to be driven around on a wheelchair.
I continue to do things with my hands. Certain tasks require special precautions. For example, I wear cement layer’s gloves purchased at the hardware store when I scrub the floor. I have another pair to do dishes. In the garden I use a heavy pair of mud gloves. I try never to get in prickly plants that could plant a thorn in me.
B-6 is a vitamin to remember if you take Xeloda. Xeloda seriously depletes your body of this vitamin. I have bottles of vitamin B-6 stashed in the car, in the upstairs bathroom, at the dinner table and in my purse. I buy 50 mg tablets, bite them in half and swallow a lot of water. I do this 4-5 times a day. If I don’t, my energy slips away and my thinking gets foggy. The hand-foot syndrome worsens without it also.
The protocol for Xeloda requires taking the pills twice a day for 2 weeks and taking none for one week. Then you start back up again. This is a serious chemotherapy drug and, like all, you must be vigilant. Many patients can not make it through the whole two week period. That is no reason to despair. If you are only able to manage 9 days, stop. The pain in the stomach (probably from too little food) is the major reason to stop. Doctors are, I think, too quick to permit you to stop if your feet look red. As long as they are not cracking open (because you are using your cream) try to ignore the pain. Do not , as so many I have known , dwell on this condition. Remember: your very life may depend on your being able to take this medicine.
After taking Xeloda for 4 or 5 rounds, you may discover that the hand-foot-syndrome may actually worsen during the weeks off the drug. My stomach seems to knot up the first day off the drug, too. I have grown accustomed to that feeling now and have learned to say "Oh, yeah today is the first day off the Xeloda."
One of the most irksome attributes of Xeloda therapy, is the bottomless sense of tired that results from the least exertion. Walking seems to use up your total energy. It almost makes you breathless—especially the two weeks when you are actually consuming the pills. Ask a friend to help you get a disability parking sticker. Go to the customer service center at the front of your grocery store and request that they send someone to the back of the store for that item you want.
You must modify your style if you are taking Xeloda.
Many of us race around in the morning trying to get out the door to work. Well, that racing is impossible on Xeloda. You must plan ahead. Arrange your clothes and prepare your lunch the nite before. Ask your spouse or friend to gas up your car. Allow others to do for you. Friends and family want to feel useful instead of helpless.
Sometimes you have to give up activities. For example, I regrettably gave up making porcelain pottery on the potter’s wheel. My hands were prone to cracking now and I figured it would be asking for trouble if I left bacteria from the clay seep into my hands. I took up beading instead. When I had not only physical energy but also creative energy, I assembled necklaces and bracelets as thank you presents for my helpful friends.
Just like selecting the battles we want to fight in life, the Xeloda patient must select his/her activities and energy-expending actions carefully. Some people absolutely must have a perfect physical environment. Objects and newspapers must be in their assigned locations. Okay you can give up your gardening time and keep the house perfect. If gardening feeds your soul and tidying doesn’t you may choose to sacrifice tidying and/or reduce your standards. You may have to choose between washing the windows or spending those sacred two hours with a gang of friends sharing a movie and conversation. A cancer diagnosis makes one cherish every moment. Xeloda forces one to seriously evaluate his/her use of time and energy.
One must carefully gauge one’s need for rest when on Xeloda. I have an inflatable mattress at work. I change my plans according to how tired I am. I gave away my precious ticket to the Neil Diamond concert. I knew it would take more energy than I had that day. Furthermore, my white blood cell count was low and I did not want exposure to all those germs from the university students who had just returned from venues all over this germ filled world. I started to go to less congested and free student concerts –when my energy was up.
Capecitabine, the scientific name for Xeloda, works havoc on rapidly reproducing membranes. For my dried out nose I buy cheap saline nasal spray. For my cracking lips I resort to lip moisturizing therapy. Because of lack of energy I confess I do not brush my teeth as often as I once did. I do try to keep my mouth clean by swishing water from one cheek to the other when I can’t brush. Mouth sores are a very common chemotherapy problem. Do not let them get to be problematic. Be vigilant and tell your doctor’s office as soon as you sense one coming.
Everybody’s body chemistry is different, so one never knows exactly what to expect. Some of us are allergic to dog hair and some to cat hair. I have included here the lessons that I have learned from my body over the 2-3 years I have been taking Xeloda. My hope is that some of my tips will help you. If not, be inventive

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Weak Hand

I posted this comment at FreeFrankWarner under a thread about Bush’s promotions of nuclear power.

There is an incredible amount of coal available on this planet, enough to theoretically last 300 years, a lot of it in the US. We in the US use about 75 million barrels of oil a day. We use the equivalent of 50 [Correction: These are not US. figures. They are world figures as calculated in the Wikipedia article on coal and rounded by myself.] million barrels of oil each from coal and natural gas. We use more oil than coal because coal is inconvenient and polluting, but we still use a lot of coal. This is not a good thing, but it is better than using oil.

At certain price points it becomes economic to convert some portion of coal to oil product equivalents. This will not happen, of course, until producers are confident that the price will hold. The infrastructure is therefore not currently available to protect our economy from the kinds of price shocks that the Arabs can threaten us with.

So protecting us from oil dependency is just a matter of keeping the price high for a long time. Protecting us from CO2 poisoning requires that we also bring the price of nuclear power down to competitive levels with coal. The French have been able to do this with today's technology. We should be able to do the same with streamlined licensing approaches and modern Pebble Bed Reactor designs. If we can't then we should subsidize nuclear power.

We should control our population, but we won't, so we need to control our use of fossil fuels, but we won't, so we must manipulate the economy to accomplish CO2 reductions, but we won't, so we have no choice but to pursue alternative power sources, which we will. Since we can only use the last option, we have to give it our best shot. Power from nuclear fission is the only remaining feasible method for significantly slowing down the progress of global warming. I personally don't think it's enough, but I hope for the best.

We in the US are aware that government is more dangerous than plutonium. If you look into Saddam’s destruction of the Marsh Arabs and their ecological base, you will find one graphic example. It would have taken a lot of nuclear weapons to wreck the same havoc as he did. Because we understand this danger, we restrict and, yes, weaken our government in a thousand ways. For fear of government, we weaken it to the point that our leaders are incapable of doing the right thing. That is the central dilemma of democracy – how to simultaneously control and empower our government. That is the problem I would like to deal with.

The fact that we are unable to address the problems of global warming or oil dependency or even CAFE standards is a measure of our failure

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Vacation

I will be offline for a few days. Beautiful day for a ride.

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Evil Empire Strikes Again

I'm not certain this is a bad thing, but if Microsoft wants it, it's not likely to be good.

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My Plan to Solve All the Problems

In order to solve the Social Security problem, we need to find a way to invest without issuing more debt or overwhelming the equity markets.

In order to solve the CO2 problem, we need to keep the cost of fossil fuels high enough to make alternatives economically attractive.

The obvious solution, which, through the magic of hindsight, we should have started implementing in 1945, is to run a surplus and buy lots of oil with the Social Security money for the Strategic Oil Reserve. The real lock-box could be under Teapot Dome and wherever else we can store the stuff. It's not too late to start. The one thing we know about oil is that it will become more valuable. If you are able to buy in significant quantities, you can effect the market, and drive up sagging prices. High prices will extend the oil horizon and slow down the burn, reducing annual CO2 contributions. Our Arab allies would love us, and the Chinese would not, which can't be all bad. Moreover, nobody could jerk us around.

6/23/2005 2:07 AM

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Bush War on CO2

The President wouldn't put on the booties for fear that someone would make fun of him, but he is doing the right thing. He is pushing nuclear again. He made a mistake, in my opinion, going to a site with old technology, making fun of his inability to understand all the dials and controls. He needs to push the new technologies. We can't go back to the Westinghouse Rube Goldberg approach. Let's start talking pebble-bed reactors and control systems with the human factors ironed out. Maybe Apple could design the interface, and IBM write the software.

We need to get the radioactive waste underground, and Bush has done his best in that direction. Right now, he is approaching the power issue in a very tentative way and he needs to step it up. He needs to acknowledge the greenhouse problem and put us on an emergency plan. He needs to point out the problems of foreign dependency and the dangers oil represents to our economy. Alternative power sources, renewables, etc., should be developed, but they don't have a chance of meeting our needs in the foreseeable future, and don't tell me about hydrogen. Being Americans, we are not going to cinch our belts too tight, even if a Democrat were in the White House. The political reality is that only nuclear can begin to solve the problem. He should declare a War on CO2, raise taxes to cover it, subsidize nukes, reform the CAFE standards and subsidize American hybrid cars. I think it's a plan he could sell.

FrankWarner has posted frequently on the subject, for example, on Feb. 8, 2005, Feb. 20, 2005, April 3, 2005, and just last night. I might have missed some. I have posted on the subject myself on April 15, 2005, April 27, 2005,

6/23/2005 1:28 AM

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

M. Simon on Republican Economics

M. Simon on Republican Economics

M. Simon defines the term "Republican Socialism" as "a price support program for socially unacceptable products."

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

EFF Action Alert

M. Simon writes that there is an EFF action alert concerning the Broadcast Flag. As near as I can tell, this is a mechanism being pushed by Hollywood to cut down on unauthorized copying. Unfortunately, it has the side effect of forcing manufacturers into maladaptive standards that will make your equipment less useful to you.

See, this is one of my points. Here is a legislative initiative that probably will effect me profoundly in the future. I have a very vague understanding of what it is, so I have to rely on mavens like M. Simon to help me out. The government, as established today, does not do anything for me that I don't know that I want it to do. It doesn't necessarily do the things I want it to do, but I have a better chance that way. If Congress can make Hollywood happy without making me unhappy, that's a good thing for them. My ignorance is their bliss

6/21/2005 9:02 PM


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Volitional Components of Homosexuality

There is a thread on FreeFrankWarner about the way that Alan Keyes has treated his Lesbian daughter. The arguments about gays in society tend to be unrewarding, escalating counter-assertion battles, but this one got me thinking about what it would take to convince a social conservative to lighten up. Here is a Yahoo article about the Swedish brain research on homosexuality. Apparently, gay men and straight women have the same brain reaction, not shared by straight men, to certain pheromones found in male sweat. This research has been seized upon by many to justify homosexual behavior. If it's genetic, then it can't be controlled. On the other hand, the research is completely dismissed by people who want to condemn homosexual behavior. People make their own choices, they say. Interestingly, there is a left-wing, activist organization, the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG), who is also dismissive of this direction of research.

The CRG released a Gene Watch position statement last year that is well written and very carefully thought out. They feel that the rationale for this research is a futile attempt to deflect conservative condemnation. They are actually afraid of what success might mean. Their fear is that any genetic markers can and will be used to discriminate against gay people. They believe that no scientific result can be expected to have any effect on that particular wellspring of irrationality. The scientific case is also just too weak, they contend. They provide some nice surgical strikes, which I certainly enjoyed, against the statistical aspects of this research as well.

My belief is that it will turn out to be a combination of genetics and imprinting. Imprinting refers to the kind of effect that causes a newly hatched bird to follow the next moving object as its mother. In this theory, at some critical period in your life, probably very early, you observe other humans, male and female, and decide, not consciously, but deep in the oldest parts of your brain, which sex to identify with and which sex to be attracted to. It may not seem the best way to engineer things, but it probably works correctly over 90% of the time. How often, in nature, do ducks pick the wrong objects to imprint on? Very rarely I imagine. Humans may have a higher failure rate because we have been evolving quickly of late. Dramatic changes in our ecological niche may have left some behaviors stranded out of context. I suspect that the genetic contribution is that different people are differentially susceptible to inappropriate imprinting. We may eventually discover that those genetic influences have primary functions unrelated to sex or sexual orientation.

There are many cases where a person's habitual responses are inappropriate. Some of these people are beyond the bounds of social tolerance. Sociopaths and pedophiles can have responses that are not acceptable and not amenable to treatment. These people have to be confined or controlled somehow. There is no choice in the matter. Other people are wired wrong, but we can live with them if we want to. Think about Asperger Syndrome, or autism in general. Some people shun those with these conditions, or even abuse them. People with these conditions may have personalities dramatically different from the typical specimen of the species, but they are loved by family and friends, and often they are loved for who they are.

Whatever the cause of their condition, many homosexuals resist their orientation strenuously. Most have shame or embarrassment for some period of time. In my mind, this really is an unfortunate waste of human potential. Eventually, however, they have to do something with their lives. Whether they can or not, they do not change. They reluctantly forgive themselves for being who they are and they get on with things. Some commit suicide rather than accept themselves. I think that is a tragedy. Look. You have a condition that may have a negative impact on reproductive efforts. In this day and age, who cares? We have plenty of people. The condition may be threatening to the rest of us at some primitive emotional level, but whose problem is that? What are the objective disbenefits introduced by homosexual behavior? OK, promiscuity among gay males leads to public health issues. That is a genuine concern, but if we let them marry and render social respect for those marriages, it might cut down on the negative behaviors. Fear of contagion? Straight kids can be misled by gay adults. They can also be misled by straight adults. Thinking that straight kids can be turned gay is paranoid. Angry parents frequently turn to that superstition after their child has come out, but emotion does not contribute much to the facts.

Very few people actually want to be different from their peers, but everybody is in fact different from everyone else. Remember. Some of the best people and some of the worst people are (fill in the blank).

6/21/2005 1:18 AM

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Zealots

Wretchard has a very interesting story about a POW who escaped from North Vietnam and about betrayals by anti-war zealots in the US. There are stories within stories here, and I'm guessing not all of it is showing, even today. You can see in the comments that we are not yet over that war. Wretchard is apparently of the opinion that the Vietnamese are still taking shots at us here and there. I think they are destined to be an unhappy people for a long time.

6/19/2005 10:12 PM

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The Hobbit and Our Self-Image

The Loom has a discussion on Homo floresiensis, AKA the Hobbit. One of the more interesting aspects of this find is how people have reacted. Some scientists are apparently very resistant to the shrinking human theory for the following reasons: 1) An animal with a brain as small as a chimpanzee could not deal with the range of tools that have been found on the site. 2) Brains of humans are like the speed of the cheetah. They are too valuable for survival reasons to be anything but optimal (as a species), and natural selection could never cause them to shrink.

Apparently even anthropologists can allow themselves to believe that evolution doesn’t happen to us.

The author, Carl Zimmer, tries to refute this line of thinking by bringing up a counter-example.

A better example was written twenty years ago by Kurt Vonnegut as a thought experiment. The book, called Galapagos: A Novel, places a remnant of the human race in an untenable situation, where de-evolution is the only way out. There are very satisfying parallels to the Hobbit story.

6/18/2005 11:56 PM

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Schiavo Again

John Grogan, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, feels that we owe Michael Schiavo an apology for the slanders against him that "flew through cyberspace".

...I owe him an apology, as well.

I allowed myself to be swayed by the relentless whispers and slanders spread by those who made Terri Schiavo's unconscious life their obsession.

The rumors flew through cyberspace, sticking as they went: Just maybe Michael had choked and beaten his wife in a failed murder attempt... Just maybe his violence, not an eating disorder, had caused the brain damage, and now he was trying to cover his tracks by insisting she be allowed to die... Just maybe he wanted the insurance settlement, or to have her out of the way so he could remarry.

I did not advance the rumors as truth, but I did let them color my thinking and lead me to question his motives. Now we know, based on an exhaustive autopsy released Tuesday, that Michael Schiavo was pretty much on target all along.

The autopsy confirmed what Schiavo has long maintained - that his wife was profoundly and irreversibly brain-damaged and no amount of therapy was ever going to change that. ...

Not me. I believed him from the beginning. What a fix to be in. Michael Schiavo is an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances, doing the best that he can. He can be a little belligerent, but I imagine I would be more so. This is not the Peterson case. The Bush family takes it personally, though. Being wrong about an enemy is insufficient reason to give him any slack, no matter how small the fry may be.

Here's my previous Schiavo post.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Making Foreign Languages More Accessible

Department of Wild Schemes

When the characters in Canterbury Tales went on a pilgrimage across England, stopping each day in a different town, it is likely that they had to learn a slightly different language. They probably conversed easily with the innkeepers and merchants, though less easily with the locals and the officials. At any rate, by the time anyone had traveled very far in the England of those days, they likely arrived at their destination speaking a language that would be unrecognizable in their starting location. They thus accomplished merely by traveling what we find so difficult to learn from books.

The same thing could happen in China today, except that no one would be travelling quite so slowly these days. In Europe, however, due to the phonetic nature of the writing methods, variants have coalesced towards the centers, leaving broad linguistic channels separating a few standards. There are still interesting subvarieties of French. This process of standardization is certainly not complete. There is a lot of word sharing and there are languages that could serve as bridges. In the Netherlands I noticed I couldn’t distinguish Dutch from English at a distance. I suspect that we make a mistake teaching German in American high schools. We should teach Dutch, which might be a lot easier for an English speaker to master. Then they could take German in college.

We had an au pair from Spain that spoke Catalan as her mother tongue. She also knew Spanish of course, and English sort of. She could also communicate with the French au pairs, even though she never studied French. She felt that Catalan was possibly closer to French than Spanish. Maybe we should consider teaching Catalan in high school rather than French or Spanish, since it seems to be a bridge language between the two.

The point I really want to make here is that we could build our own bridge languages. Using historical bridges or concentrating on shared words may be helpful. My vision for teaching is that we could start reading the works of, say, Alexander Dumas, translated to English with a gradual merging into modern French over several volumes bit by bit. You could start by changing away from English word order and then gradually introducing French phrases and vocabulary. The idea is to provide a flow of language in a comfortable medium with an almost imperceptible transition to the target language. This would, of course, be a massive translation effort. I don’t know whether it’s ever been tried, or even whether it could work, but I think the importance of teaching languages to Americans makes it worth the effort.

6/17/2005 10:46 PM

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Learning a Foreign Language

Would you like to learn a foreign language? Lots of people would. Lots of Americans have discovered that it is very difficult to do. I once was served ice cream in Antwerp by a person who spoke six languages. He apparently misidentified me and rattled off a few before he got to English. My wife met a young Finnish woman in line for railroad tickets who spoke nineteen. Why did she have no entourage? It is not at all uncommon to find people in Europe who speak three, even in France. These must be very industrious people, n’est-ce pas?

I’ve always felt that languages are very badly taught. Is this an unwarranted accusation against the honorable profession of language teachers? Come on – even the teachers themselves will tell you that immersion is the best way to learn. My brother went to school in West Texas. When he came home from his first year, he could rattle off Spanish like he’d swallowed the phrase book. Hint: he did not learn it in class. Immersion works, but schools in the US do not have the stones to propose an immersion program. So why do they bother? We do a pretty decent job of teaching reading, writing, math, and science. Why waste our time teaching language.

You used to hear that it was important to start children young. In fact, one of my children was due to start a French class in second grade when the whole program was cancelled. I was disappointed, but I went to the school meeting to listen. The explanation, which I accept, is that students who start in the seventh grade easily catch up with those who start in the second. There was thus no noticeable net benefit, and plenty of cost, like five extra years of cost. The teachers felt they could use the extra time profitably, and I believe they are right.

Unfortunately, surrender is not an easily digested option. The pleasure of knowing a foreign language is comparable to knowing how to play an instrument. The social need is undeniable. The US suffers because of our uniquely American inadequacy in the language field. We might have been a lot better off in our dealings with the Muslim world if we had a pool of translators, readers and speakers, of Arabic, Urdu, and Farsi, not to mention Turkish and the two hundred languages of Indonesia.

The Peace Corps does a halfway decent job of teaching languages. I’ve often suspected that this was the hidden purpose of the Peace Corps. It’s hard for me to believe that politicians developed a genuinely altruistic organization. But I think the Peace Corps is a really good thing. You could consider joining. By the way, I believe it uses immersion as its primary method.

The thing about us and languages. We don’t need to learn them, and we don’t have much chance to use them. If you do run into someone who speaks a foreign language as a native, they will use the opportunity as a means to refine their English. That’s because, they are much better at English than you are at their language, and because, once again, they need it and you don’t. There’re always some extroverts who can ingratiate themselves with foreign language speakers enough to learn the language. That’s certainly the best way if you can do it. I can’t even ingratiate myself with English speakers, so that way doesn’t work for me.

Unqualified as I am, I do have some suggestions for an introverted American who wants to learn a foreign language. I have thought about this for years and a certain amount of this comes from my experiences of repeated failure. Berlitz is great, but it’s ridiculously expensive. Travel is very helpful, but also expensive and stressful for the shy person. Classroom work is OK, but painfully inefficient, and you start forgetting from the day you leave.

Suggestion 1: Buy the Rosetta Stone CDs for language instruction on your PC. They are expensive, but they are well worth it. They are easy to get through and provide lots of motivation for the beginner. You will be amazed at how much you really learn in a very short time. Unfortunately, you will be disappointed by how quickly you use up the instruction.

Suggestion 2: Find a book you love. Preferably a relatively short, simple book with lots of dialog. A book you have read several times. Then get a copy of the book in the target language along with a very good dictionary, or better yet, several dictionaries of various grades. Sit down and read the book. Read it several times. Compare to the original and savor the relationship. Don’t kill yourself trying to understand every word, but do understand every sentence. Keep a list of all the hard words.

Also, don’t do this when you’re sleepy, unless you want to go to sleep. It is hard work, but you can feel yourself making progress. Motivation is the crucial issue here. That’s why you have to pick a book you love.

Suggestion 3: Find a computer instruction format where spoken language is paired with text, so that you can select and repeat a phrase as often as you like. Imitate the sounds of a speech segment as closely as you can while reading it. When you have mastered a segment, memorize it. Recite it to yourself before you go to bed each night. I recommend "101 Languages of the World" for this purpose. Its boring, but inexpensive. Exotic poetry might be more fun, but it will be hard to find the paired format and it won’t have the common phrases.

Don’t play around. If this is important to you, take the trouble to memorize lots of material. Don’t let your memories lapse either. Memorizing is also hard work, but once it’s done, you get to keep it. Even though you forget it, years later you will be able to revive the memory by a very short review. I was told by the Mexican man at the pizza parlor, who speaks pretty good English, that you really only need half an hour a day of study, but you can’t let yourself miss. If you memorize stuff, you carry it everywhere and you never have an excuse for skipping. It can help you get through an exercise session, or a long commute (beware of highway hypnosis though).

Suggestion 4: Be very discriminating in what you buy. There are an endless variety of books and tapes that are not really very helpful. Some are unhelpful because of inherent pedagogical flaws. Some are admirable products that would help the person who has tremendous self-motivation. Unless you have a track record of succeeding at this sort of thing, I would stay away.

6/17/2005 12:06 AM

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Denial is A River in Vietnam

The government of Malaysia has condemned a memorial to the Boat People erected on Bidong Island, the transition point for refugees from Vietnam. The government of Vietnam has made the request. BBC doesn't say why the request was made. I suppose that that the victimizer naturally resents a memorial to the victims. The Turks are going through the same thing with the Armenians -- still, after 100 years. The Japanese still have some difficulty with the Chinese in this regard.

Conversely, we need to give credit to the Germans, who have so thoroughly disavowed the actions of the Nazis. There is, of course, a remnant, but the Germans have, by and large, changed. They have changed for the better. And so have we. We should give ourselves credit for expunging the ghosts of slavery and attempted genocide. I have no time for people who say otherwise, that our imperial tendencies remain unchecked, unmodified in any way.

In the case of the Boat People, Vietnam is hoping in its Marxist way, to make a page of history disappear. This makes a bizarre contrast with those Americans still in Vietnam searching for the least remnant of a memory of every last casualty and missing POW, scraping the jungle for the last broken tooth, the last torn bit of rotting cloth. What must they think of this obsessive investigation? I suspect they are secretly terrified of that hunger for truth. They remain, I am sure, astounded at their military victory, thinking it must have been for some good purpose. The possibility that they would have been better off losing must cause them a lot of cognitive dissonance.

6/15/2005 11:57 AM

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Why New Ideas Take So Long

Why New Ideas Take So Long

M. Simon has a great article about the automobile design cycle on Winds of Change that is well worth reading. It's from February, 2003, before the huge sales demand for the Prius became apparent. From what I know on the subject, the only thing slowing them down is a huge waiting list.

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Quango

I believe that a rose by any name would smell as sweet [H.T.W.S], but something in the back of my brain, at the same level where superstitions are kept, makes me feel that certain words are just better, more appropriate, more powerful even, simply because of the way they sound. I have already mentioned "gazump and gazunder", delightful words for nasty practices that any prospective homebuyer (or seller) should understand. Here is a piece in the Scotsman on quango kings and queens, which concerns the inevitable horde of imitation do-gooders and chest-thumpers who tend to appear near any government financial spigots. (Which reminds me. Spigot and faucet are also great words, but I've never understood the precise distinction between them.) Opposition candidates in the UK have apparently been calling for a "bonfire of the quangos" for some years now, but getting little traction.

6/13/2005 8:22 PM

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Friday, June 10, 2005

Political Distance

Political Distance

After getting a question that made me think a little, I have added three comments to the post on Binary Decomposition of Political Distance.

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Panic in The Streets

I missed this rather frightening report when it first came out. I was startled to find out that it is not an urban legend. Snopes has it marked as true! I found it when I was researching the dangers of depleted uranium (DU) which I think is overblown (unless you happen to be riding in an enemy tank). I haven't been able to find any good sources on that yet.

The implication of the report is that Bush is doing the right thing on some of these issues. I'm not convinced of that, but I'll give him a pass on this one.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Finance Science

The Cost of The Absence of Money

I've often thought that the mismanagement of large sums of money is the worst crime. So much effort by so many people goes into the aggregation of wealth and so much suffering is induced by its absence that financial crimes can be among the cruelest. There are tipping points where the amount of money available can make a big difference in people's lives.

Case

Say, for instance, that a certain hospital has a secure endowment. It has been in operation for a hundred years, has a distinguished history and a handful of specialties that keep its name in the literature. The hospital has a large inner city clientele, most of which can pay at least some of the bills. At some point, an auditor discovers that a lot of the old bequest accounts have been drained to pay the inflated salaries for an executive team that came aboard a few years ago and recently departed. Perhaps no laws have been broken, but it is apparent that the endowment is no longer able to generate the kind of cash flow necessary for basic maintenance.

So what happens? The new management cannot find enough of the kinds of efficiencies and service reductions that had kept the place going in the past. To make the best of a bad situation, they eliminate most of the staff, sell off most of the campus and dedicate the remaining funds to support a small clinic. With the original funding, they might have kept the big facility alive for another ten or even twenty years, but it’s the best they can do now.

Consequence

The local impact is that hundreds of older patients will now have to travel, perhaps an hour, by city transit to another facility. The clinic handles emergencies and such, but chronic patients, diabetes patients with limb deterioration, dialysis patients, emphysema cases, may have to go elsewhere. A certain portion of these folks will give up and die. The other patients may well decide to get treatment less frequently. Some of the diabetes patients will lose limbs as a result. Dialysis patients will spend a lot more time feeling sick and can expect a shortened life span. Most of the staff will find jobs elsewhere. Some won’t. Some will have to leave behind relatives who will suffer to greater or lesser degrees from the lack of support. The man who sells hotdogs on the corner is making a lot less money. His wife is one of the diabetes patients. They don’t run the air conditioner any more so they can save some money. The man who sells papers in the street can’t quite get enough money together for a visit to the dentist. He’s grumpy all the time and won’t let the neighborhood kids help him anymore. Sometimes they hide his papers in the morning.

Context

There are more examples of what happens when the CFO cheats or errs than I can enumerate. Let’s talk about the Orange County derivatives fiasco, the collapse of Enron, pension defaults, stock bubbles, real estate frenzies. I imagine you have your own relevant experiences. The common theme to these rolling catastrophes is that financial errors make people suffer and nobody calls FEMA.

Cause

Everybody has a different explanation for why these things happen. When I read anything related to finance, I could easily be convinced that it’s due to lack of intelligence. The Science of Finance has developed to a point where it reads like Quantum Mechanics. The incorporation of the Black-Scholes formula into hedge fund investing is the best example of this analytic surrealism. Nevertheless, I think most people would insist that these failures have something to do with human nature. An article from CFO Magazine, by Stephen Brown, (by way of Alan L. Nelson) seems to have found a piece of the puzzle. Apparently rogue traders have a tendency, possibly innate, to "double up" after they make a loss. That is, they increase the size of the next risk to cover the previous losses. His solution: keep a closer eye on these guys.

6/9/2005 4:41 PM

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

An Possibly Unfortunate Choice of Wordsmiths

An Possibly Unfortunate Choice of Wordsmiths

We have here, courtesy of the NY Times, incontrovertible proof that the Bush administration uses spin. They apparently have hired a spin-doctor, a specialist, to shade environmental assessments so as to introduce doubt concerning the existence and extent of global warming. His main function seems to be to inject waffle words, specifically from the adjective and adverb department, into documents already approved by the appropriate officials. OK, everyone who is surprised by this, raise your hands.

My question, perhaps just as naïve to those in the know, is why? Does the administration glean some sort of legal protection from this process? Do they really think this intensity surgeon is having any impact on opinion, making the efforts of hundreds of government drudges a shade less definitive? Maybe a shade less quotable? "No, no, perhaps my esteemed colleague from the state of Wyomissing would be kind enough to go back and read the exact phrase, where it distinctly says ‘relatively unlikely’, not just ‘unlikely’."

It seems to me that failure to acknowledge the seriousness of global warming hurts us all. How could an administration with such clear vision about the dangers of fascism in the Middle East be so weaselly about this other threat? It could be argued, I suppose, that injecting a modicum of doubt into the process will prevent us from jumping prematurely to inappropriate solutions. More likely, some constituent group prefers to delay expensive action, probably a business group, such as Big Oil or builders of the Bummer, an inner-city 3-ton pickup for use in residential speed-bump events.

Isn’t it likely that there would be just as many businesses that would benefit from the effort to cut CO2? How about Westinghouse, the builder of nuclear power plants? [Ed. Yes, he’s serious.] Don’t they count anymore? If the administration took the right tack on this, there could be a feeding frenzy of emergency no-bid contracts in the green energy market. There would be enough to make everybody happy. Lobbyists could take to smoking cigars again, just [slightly, somewhat, occasionally] different lobbyists.

6/8/2005 8:58 PM

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Wretchard on Zimbabwe

Do Something!

Belmont Club has two good posts on the eroding situation in Zimbabwe (and here). I'm glad to see that Blair is pushing Bush on Africa, but Blair may be a little too timid concerning required levels of force. We should have taken direct action the day after the election, before anyone had a chance to initiate appeasement noises.

6/8/2005 11:51 AM

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Hillary Unloads

Hunting for elephant apparently, Hillary let them have it with both barrels. Republicans have always been quick to demonize her and denigrate her centrist positions. She has been slow to return the compliment. I don't really think this talk is particularly useful or admirable, but ... Call it a guilty pleasure.

6/7/2005 11:07 PM

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Rant on the Distribution of Wealth

One of the favorite memes going around red state culture is the lunch story. You see, four friends go to lunch together every day and split the bill according to their income. The bill, with tip, comes to $40.00. The first guy pays $37.80; the next guy pays $1.95; the third guy pays a quarter, and the last guy pockets the tip. Wait, you’re supposed to say, that’s not fair! They should all pay the same!

Well, says the clever storyteller, that’s exactly what the government is doing to us. It’s called progressive taxation, but it doesn’t sound like progress to me.

The effect of this story is to personalize an economic process. It distorts the nature of economic justice by turning it into a kindergarten tale about sharing. It fails to take into account the generating function that creates these unequal incomes. Where is the fairness in that? Well, they say, what is the good of working hard and using your God-given talents to earn more if the federal government is just going to suck it away? Don’t you want to reward people for contributing to the economy?

The fact is that people who have God-given talents and people who work hard generally make more money than others. God-given talents are a form of capital. People who can write well. People with great mathematical skills, doctors, lawyers, linguists, inventors, if they are good at it, all make more money than their peers in the same line of business. But who is really making the big money? Let’s be honest about it. For every Warren Buffett and Bill Gates there are a hundred John DuPont’s who are raking in the dough faster than they can waste it. The very best athletes can also make a lot of money. But for every Michael Jordan, there are a hundred thousand Joe Schmos seeking the same dream, but stuck in poverty.

The average doctor or lawyer works harder and makes less than they did a generation ago. When I was growing up, my doctor had his own x-ray equipment and did house calls in a big black Cadillac. My children’s doctor drives a Honda, works too many hours and recently moved to another state to get away from outrageous medical insurance. Where did that money go? Our economy has supposedly gained incredible amounts of productivity, but somehow, it is coming out of the young doctor’s pocket, someone who has to master much more technology, science and social/ethical training than my doctor could even dream of.

How hard do the rich work? I can tell you one thing about hard work. Lots of rich people moan about how lazy American workers are. When they get you alone, they love to tell jokes about it. They want to get you to laugh at poor black people. Hey it’s just a joke. But when they’re serious they will tell you with a straight face that the hardest workers in America are illegal Mexican immigrants. This may well be true, but, pray tell, what are the future prospects of these people? Will they be taking home a significant share of America’s wealth for all their hard work?

Someone who had a brilliant idea years ago could make it, patent it and market it. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a myth that it ever worked that way. Maybe there were never any "acres of diamonds", but we know what would happen today. The poor inventor wouldn’t stand a chance. If the idea actually got off the ground in spite of all the protective legislation that big companies are wrapped with, then the big companies would just steal it and tie up the hapless inventor in court.

(I got started on this rant by reading a post on FreeFrankWarner. He got started by reading the New York Times excellent series on how the rich get richer. Since you read this far, you might also be interested in my early post on the virtues of land tax.)

6/7/2005 10:31 PM

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Raich Decision

M. Simon has a post on the recent SCOTUS decision against medical use of marijuana.

The case of Raich vs. Gonzales has been decided. The decision as far as this non-lawyer can figure out says that there are no limits to what Congress can regulate.

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Sunday, June 05, 2005

Binary Decomposition of Political Distance

Political Networking Proposals

In the old days, everything was done by means of introductions. If you wanted to talk with a particular person, you needed to play a game of six degrees of separation. Obviously things aren’t so formal these days and the system had its faults. The process of conferring trust from one person to the next left many people out of the social loop and also failed to fulfill its primary objective, which was to promote social interaction and filter out the salespeople and con artists.

A process that evolved among the lower classes for similar purposes grew up in the urban America political machines. You trusted your committeeman and did what he told you to do. If you had a problem, he would deal with it through his network connections. There were obviously numerous problems with that process as well, notably massive corruption at the retail level. That’s what we remember, the elitism of the one and the corruption of the other. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is a need for something similar.

What we have today is the converse of those rough political systems. The social networks joining us to our political leaders have become very sparse and unreliable. The unreliability has been induced by competing powers trying to usurp the networks with their partisan messages. The sparseness is a side effect of the success of American culture. Most of us don’t need to interface with political parties any more. We are too busy making our fortunes and dealing directly with our own problems. The economic system protects us from the worst of the political system. The nuclear family is paramount, the political world an afterthought, the concerned citizen a rarity, but we know that neglecting the political system can be risky.

Many people don’t participate in the political process because they don’t understand it. They don’t vote because they don’t know anything about the candidates. A lot of voters take the list of recommendations from the local paper, or the union, or the party regulars. Personally, aside from Bush vs. Kerry, I never have had any problem deciding. Unless I have strong opinions, I always vote against the incumbent or the expected winner, just to make it a little closer. My theory is that there is somebody out there who knows the score. If there is a closer balance, then those knowledgeable people will have more of a chance to make a difference.

But wouldn’t it be better if I could find those people who know the score, and just ask them how to vote. There are two ways I can do this, top down or bottom up. The top down method might involve reading columnists or blogs to find someone I tend to agree with. If I find someone I like, I’ll just take their recommendations. Well it turns out that some of these people might be getting paid to present a certain viewpoint, or they might be disguising their true position for personal or strategic reasons, or they might not know the particulars of my region.

Here’s my proposal for cultivating appropriate political recon specialists. Set it up like a dating service. Let some non-partisan group, like the League of Women Voters, solicit a corps of volunteer political mavens from, say, every congressional district in the USA (they could be bloggers even). Screen them for sanity, and the usual issues, then let them fill out a questionnaire concerning their goals, interests, political aspirations, worldview, etc. (Note that questionnaires can be designed to evaluate responses for honesty.) Members of the public can then respond to a matchmaker questionnaire online in order to decide which of these mavens would be best for them to emulate. The mavens could keep in touch with their fans by means of newsletters or email. The LWV might take it upon themselves to provide additional resources to facilitate interaction and communication.

I’ll talk about more top down ideas and some bottom up approaches in a later post.

6/5/2005 11:51 PM

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Saturday, June 04, 2005

West Wing Thoughts

West Wing Thoughts

I’ve been watching the first year of West Wing on DVD (for my wife, believe me) and was impressed by the moral rectitude of these characters. Constantly straying just over the line, but seeing the light in time to avoid an ethical faux pas. How I wish I could believe that there has been anyone in that building comparable in virtue to these characters since Abe Lincoln was re-elected. But it wouldn’t matter if they had all been paragons, recently stepped down as members of the choir of angels. Their wings are almost always clipped, and they have to follow the sheet music pretty closely in order to hold power. What a paradox. They have the power, but no choice in how they exercise it. I suppose you could say the same of most rulers throughout history. Since they are so seldom paragons, I guess it’s a good thing we don’t let them fly too far.

Leo apparently was a pill-popper and an alcoholic not too many years before. Some McCarthyite Senator has obtained his medical records through devious means. Leo’s image, and that of the whole White House staff is in trouble. Does that sound familiar. The public, because of the tyranny of Bandwidth has no way to know what a good guy he is and blackmail is a possibility.

6/4/2005 11:57 PM

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Hitchens Debate

Christopher Hitchens, the famous pro-war leftist, took part in a debate concerning Bush/Blair and their place in history. Black Triangle has the details plus a great picture of the man himself.

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Michael Yon in Iraq

Michael Yon in Iraq

Michael Yon is a free-lance writer with an online magazine. He is a low key and pleasant wordsmith who doesn't think much of "martyrdom operations". He was in Mosul on Tuesday. He's in Dohut now, where he took some nice pictures.

UPDATE: Apparently Michael Yon is the person who took the famous photograph of the major carrying a dying child. Blackfive had some discussion last month. Though most of the links are broken there is still an army interview with him. 6/5/05 6:05PM

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Baseball Steroid Stats

Frank Warner has an interesting discussion about the steroid slump in ML Baseball.

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Lancet 100,000 again

Lancet 100,000 again

Black Triangle has a post discussing the statistical appropriateness of the Lancet Study of Iraq mortality, comparing it with the more recent ILCS study by the UN. He has the links. Here is his conclusion, which I share with somewhat less vehemence.

...I still stand by the point that to use the Lancet report to say the US has killed 100,000 people in the Iraq war is simplistic twaddle ...

My own exhaustive [ed.: exhausting?] evaluation of the Lancet study begins here, here, here and especially here. I have been negligent on this issue. I'll try to get back to it.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Tyranny of Bandwidth III

In summary:
  1. Your Representative in Congress cannot hear you.
  2. You cannot hear your Representative.

There is a very long and sclerotic narrow pipe between you and your Rep. The only reason anything flows in this pipe is that the powerful people trying to warp it are all pushing from opposing directions.

Your Rep and the people your Rep relies on for information range from the unwaveringly public-spirited to the deviously self-interested. Their attitudes to public exposure also range from the eagerly attracted to fearfully averse. You have no idea, and the press has little idea, of what exactly is going on and who is involved. Your Rep, who must have a better idea of where the levers of power reside, needs the help of all these pushy and these shadowy figures to get anything done, and even to retain office. They all have some peculiar control and clout accruing to their persons, their wealth and talents, but also, to a certain extent, because of the fragility of the Image, which is the shield of a public official.

Image is the substitute for knowledge that voters must rely on. The natural selection of politicians insures that only the ones with Teflon images move up to high positions, but even so, they do not have freedom of action. No one is sufficiently free of Image vulnerability to Do the Right Thing. For instance, tactical amendments to legislation are often inserted at the last moment because there is insufficient Image robustness to allow a "No" vote. No one can really count on getting the truth out. (This is the real reason that Senators cannot be elected President. They can always be crucified upon their records no matter what their intentions were.)

I believe that the Bandwidth problem is serious and continuously destructive. It should be addressed, and is, of course, being addressed constantly, but obliquely. Some of the approaches that have been used are:

  • Common Cause type organizations that address the mechanisms of government
  • Carter Center type organizations that address the functioning of elections
  • McCain-Feingold type laws that attempt to limit monetary influence
  • News reporting, editorials and columnist opinions to explain events and issues to the voters
  • CSPAN, which tries to give voters a realistic picture of the legislative process
  • Investigative journalism by reporters that follow Congress
  • Ombudsmen appointed to promote justice relative to specific issues
  • Polling and focus groups to inform the members of Congress about their constituents’ opinions
  • Public Interest Groups that, possibly, project the Public’s true voice upwards
  • Educational resources that explain how the powers that be can manipulate public opinion

All these things have their merits and limitations. I think that characterizing the problem as a collective network breakdown could lead to more productive approaches. Some of the ideas that I want to discuss in future posts as possible correctives are:

  • Voters unions to combine and enhance the voice of citizens
  • Mock court style debates on legislative issues
  • Computer matching of voters with educated role-model voters
  • Self-characterization aides for voters, perhaps with correlated blog-mapping

I think I am exploring new territory here. At least I’m stumbling down a path which may provide a new vantage point. If anyone is ahead of me on this, I’d certainly appreciate hearing from them.

6/2/2005 11:46 PM

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Clash of Civilizations

The Baron has been producing lots of good stuff on the Gates of Vienna recently. He has a strongly Christian, almost Crusader, point of view. He takes the position that most of us are being hopelessly naive and naively hopeful about this GWOT. You see, we don't choose our enemies, our enemies choose us. It remains to be seen, he thinks, whether the Muslim world will choose to be our enemy. Our policy has been to reduce the likelihood of that choice, but it is ultimately not in our hands. He also discusses an article by Orson Scott Card, who gives his perspective as a Mormon concerning the benefits of religious liberty.

Orson Scott Card, as an author of very popular fantasy books (and other genres), rates a major position in our household library. (Not everbody admires OSC. If you need to see a bad review, you can find a vicious one here. Contains spoilers.)

There is followup discussion on Gates of Vienna. You should read the more recent stuff too. I have to admit that the Baron and Oriana Fallaci pique my paranoia. I can’t dismiss them easily.

6/2/2005 12:52 AM

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Increasing Abortion Numbers

Prairie Angel points out an article in the Houston Chronicle that discusses the fact that abortion numbers were falling through the 90's, but started increasing when Bush was elected. Well, as Pres. Bartlett would say, "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc".

I don't really think that Bush is personally to blame for this phenomenon. His tax policies might be indirectly to blame for the length of the employment dearth. Transfer of wealth from the poor to the wealthy is not generally a good thing. But the real culprits are probably 1) the burst of the dot.com bubble and 2) the strange behavior of 19 misguided Arab boys.

The US economy is massive and productive, but we were probably hit at the most vulnerable spot in the country, from an economic point of view, and at the most vulnerable point in the business cycle. This was more than blowing up the barn. It was more like giving the farmer a stroke. The business acumen that was lost, the business habits of generations, the nodes of important human networks, the expensive introduction of fear and tentativeness into business procedures, all add up to a sizeable dent in the GNP.

I suppose those boys would be happy to know that they are still killing Americans.

6/1/2005 11:19 PM

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