Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Taters, Yeti, and Safety Experts
A penguin, a yeti, and a game that's a lot of fun, if a little twisted.
Via fad, Taters.
Neil Gaiman shares with us this article about badly obsolete guns carried by prison guards who demand that the guns be replaced; he points out the article includes this really fun sentence:
The guns do not scare inmates any more as safety experts have advised guards not to fire them.
(Updated 7 May to cope with a broken link and change the previously unacceptably lame title.)
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Jared Diamond's mysterious source
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Rock, Paper, Saddam
Living will lessons from the Schiavo case
In the meantime, at the risk of behaving ignorantly, I obtained a living will form from the post legal office (I'm military) and am returning Monday to finish it off with a lawyer, with the intent of clarifying a couple of key points the Schiavo case has brought up.
First, I want to add this provision: "I require that I shall not be declared in a state of persistent vegetative state (PVS) without first a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test and Positron Emission Topography (PET) scan being performed upon me and the results of those tests being consistent with a diagnosis of a PVS."
Second, disconnecting life support is one thing if the life support in question is a respirator or heart machine. Ending treatment and allowing me to die is one thing if I have a disease that will kill me regardless of my nutrient intake. Ending my life by denying me sustenance when there is no fatal illness present and I would continue to live out a normal lifespan if fed is something else altogether. Of course I never want to suffer brain damage, but if I do, I still don't want my cause of death to be starvation or dehydration.
Therefore, I intend to replace a line in the existing living will text that reads "I expressly authorize the withholding and withdrawal of artificially provided food, water, and other nourishment and fluids" with something close to "I expressly require the provision of food, water, and other nourishment and fluids--artificially provided, if necessary--in the absence of any terminal disease causing suffering that would be exacerbated by these."
Again, perhaps it is junk science to require an MRI and PET scan for a PVS diagnosis, but as long it's my life in question, or that of any other person who outlives Terri Schiavo, perhaps it's not asking too much that I, or they, require at least a few details to demonstrate that rather than Dr. Whelan's or Dr. Cranford's authority alone and in the meantime insist on such tests before accepting the PVS label.
Michael Schiavo insists that he's following through on what Terri had said she'd want in these circumstances, and many others insist his actions are the ethical course. I hope that if, instead, she had written in a living will to continue all provision of nutrition and hydration (except in case of a fatal disease made only more painful by them), that course could be universally acknowledged as the ethical one. I hope also that no one who ever controls my fate will find ethically unacceptable my requiring the same for myself.
It appears too late for her. It's not too late for the rest of us.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
George Felos an agent of God?
I'm pretty sure Bill would hate this guy. His antiMichaelSchiavoness is, at least, polemic, intemperate, and reckless--quite possibly a whole lot worse. Try, though, to disregard everything that he says about Michael Schiavo or Judge Greer or even Terri Schiavo here. Just focus on the stuff about George Felos. If those quotes from his book are correct, George Felos is one weird dude.
Neurologist Dr.William Cheshire had the opportunity to examine Terri Schiavo after allegations of abuse and neglect were made this month but does not in this affidavit himself accuse Michael Schiavo of any malice or wrongdoing. He only speaks about the condition of her brain and the possibility of consciousness.
To a certain extent, it seems sometimes that Dr. Cheshire treats as evidence the same kinds of behaviors he earlier discounts. But I'm no neurologist. Certainly numbers 5 & 6 on pages 4 and 5 make a pretty convincing case for her experiencing pain, or more. Pain, he notes, is inconsistent with PVS.
I'll be very surprised if Terri Schiavo is alive this time next week. But she should be.
(affidavit via The Corner, where Kathryn Lopez excerpts some key paragraphs here and here.)
Shrimp vs. Prawns
It's embarrassing how much I relied upon Google results when writing this post back in 2005, rather than doing some real research. Even more embarrassing is that it's taken me several years to update the thing, after I found some really good sources in 2006.
There are really two questions going on here--the actual scientific differences and the meaning we non-scientists can attach to the terms when we encounter them in seafood restaurants and stores.
My favorite source to address both of these questions, which I discovered in September 2006, is the 2004 book by Philip B. Mortenson, This Is Not A Weasel: A Close Look at Nature's Most Confusing Terms. You can buy it cheaply through Amazon or perhaps find it at a nearby library. Several things are helpful about Mortenson's approach.
First, he isn't just looking at each animal individually, but instead the entry is actually doing a comparison between the meanings of the two words (and "krill," as well). Second, he's looking at both the scientific and the commercial meanings, while some other published sources are only considering the biological details.
Fond of Mortenson's piece on this as I am, I'll return to it in just a moment. First, though, one print resource that's nice for separate articles on the biology of shrimp and prawns is The International Wildlife Encyclopedia, a 20-volume reference work that was published in 1970, 1980, and 1990.
More recently, there's the online Encyclopedia of Life, created by a number of scientists in 2007. Viewing the creation details in the FAQs, it seems pretty reliable. Since the terms "shrimp" and "prawn" are, in fact, rather vague, searches in the EOL for either term return entries for a number of species. Browse through such search results there at your leisure. Two of likely interest are this entry for Common shrimp and this one for Common prawn.
Comparing Morteson's entry to the EOL, it's apparent that he's got a typo, with "Cragon vulgaris" when he means Crangon vulgaris (a synonym of Crangon crangon, the common shrimp). Despite that, I like the discussion of the commonalities and differences between the various species that each somehow share the label of "shrimp" and the same likewise for "prawn." I like even more that he notes that several species commonly named shrimp of some kind (e.g. white shrimp, Kuruma shrimp) share the same taxonomic family with the common prawn (Penaeidae) rather than that of the common shrimp (Crangonidae). Further, he notes that with such a large variety of shrimp species sold from whatever family and genus, they are often sold simply as "shrimp" with no accompanying designation or, similarly relabeled at market as "prawns," taxonomic designation aside.
So while the original post was weakly sourced and the addition too long delayed of some better sources I later found, I think the point stands that if you're asking the difference between shrimp and prawns, you need to consider whether you mean scientifically or commercially. Scientifically, you want to consider various species in a couple different families. In terms of the actual seafood you're eating, particularly here in America, the name of what you're buying may or may not match up to the taxonomic designation. The marketers' concern is often not the concern of the marine biologists.
Original post from 3/24/05:
It's seemed lately that I'm seeing dishes with prawns appearing on more restaurant menus than in the past. I'm not saying they really are there more than before, just that I've noticed them more. I had been thinking it probably just reflected on my lack of culinary sophistication. For instance, I think I only heard of prawns for the first time in my late teens watching Monty Python's Flying Circus on VHS, and I think I've known since then that they're basically big shrimp. But beyond "pretty much like big shrimp," I really couldn't say what constitutes a prawn, so it'd be good to clarify that.
It turns out, though, that there isn't a lot of clarity to be had on the matter. The problem isn't so much about ignorance on my end as it is about confusion nearly everywhere differentiating between shrimp and prawns. Some scientists are able to make distinctions, but it appears that nobody else pays much attention to them, and it looks like there isn't even consensus there. This info sheet from the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia has some pretty clear definitions and explanation of the difference between them. But unfortunately for those of us in the U.S., a key paragraph begins, "The crustaceans that Australians call prawns..." Just Australians? Well, at least not the Yanks, it suggests, concluding the paper with a paragraph headed, "A shrimp in the USA is a prawn in Australia." Terrific. So, north of the equator, ignore all that.
At this site, based out of St. Louis but with a postal address in Boston [huh?], one Alastair Lyon, Science Information Officer, addresses the issue by dismissing it. He responds to the question, "What is the scientific difference(s) between shrimp and prawn?" by laying out the six classes of Crustacean phylum, noting the group (Decapods) that shrimp and prawns belong to within the class Malaconstracans, and then concludes by discussing the similarities between them! He even says outright "Forget 'shrimp' and 'prawn.'"
On the one hand, he did open with, "What you've actually asked is a big question all about Crustacean taxonomy," and has the Museum Victoria backing him up with, "The classification of the Decapoda is very complex, even to a carcinologist (a scientist who studies Crustacea)," but, still, you've got to love the chutzpah of the misdirection here. Essentially, it's this:
"What's the difference between these?"Maybe he's got an sensible motive to dodge the question, though. It seems there is no difference, but almost no one wants to admit it. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is cited here as framing the difference as: "a shrimp is a saltwater crustacean and a prawn is a freshwater crustacean," even though the very next sentence in the article notes "this glosses over the fact that many prawns are caught in marine waters and many more migrate between freshwater and saltwater habitats." Really enjoyably, though, the same sentence concludes with, "[this] is the most widely agreed upon rule we've got." So...what you're saying is...the most agreed upon rule we've got on the matter is...basically useless?
"To answer your question....here are the similarities."
In fact, that same article observes that "essentially, there are no rules governing what your supermarket can sell as shrimp and what it can sell as prawns." It also included this sentence, my favorite on the subject: "One [seafood] industry expert we spoke to became so exasperated, he swore that no one on earth knows the difference." So I guess I was as good as an expert already.
Essential Update: At least one person has contemptuously criticized this post and the sources cited in it. For discussion and response, see here.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Everyone's right and everyone's wrong
I have not written about the Terri Schiavo case because it is too complex, too multilayered, and too steeped in unknown or unknowable facts for me - indeed for most people - to have a fully informed opinion.
I don't know - and neither do you - if Michael Schiavo is trying to murder his wife or trying to fulfill her stated wishes for just such a scenario. I don't know what Terri Schiavo would want - and neither do you - because she didn't tell us via a living will. We have only the word of her husband who assures us that his wife once said she wouldn't want to be kept alive this way, and we have her parents, who love their daughter and desire only to care for her.
He goes on to discuss the recent actions of Congress on this and what he thinks they should do afterward. While I think I agree with him that this intervention by Congress was wrong and disagree with him that the steps he then suggests are the solution, it's the bit above I relate to most. In fact, I think the truth may be even more unknowable than does he. Whatever other criticisms of it one (such as Ponnuru) might make of this e-mail John Derbyshire posted on The Corner, the first half of the second paragraph makes strong points about not putting absolute confidence in living wills:
Consider further that even when people do provide a living will it is almost impossible to take into account all the variables. If a man has a stroke or an intracranial hemorrhage and becomes incapacitated to the extent that immediately thereafter he cannot fend for himself, i.e. get water, drink water, get food, eat food. Is that it then, ballgame over, no tubes, no i.v. Of course not, some people take many weeks or months of intensive therapy to recover that capacity, and of course some men never do. The problem is it can be very difficult to predict this. So now you may have a man who is stuck forever on tubefeeding when all he might have reasonably wanted was to be given a "fair" shot at recovery. See how quickly we get into deep water. Almost nobody defines in their living wills how long they would like to be given to recover. I would just hate for Terri Schiavo to be going through what Kate Adamson went through.
While I agree with Fr. Johansen on the matter of keeping her alive, I remain curious about his view of the Wolfson report, as it continues to seem to me to present a very different picture of the scene than does he.
However--while I disagree with Bill McCabe about sending her on to the hereafter, I do agree with him that it's looking more moot all the time. At least for Terri herself. As Andy McCarthy's new Corner post underscores, attention to this matter is important to resist a growing culture of death.
But right now I just don't have the energy. I'm exhausted and hope to do at least marginally better than the 5 hours of sleep of each the last two nights. And so I go to bed feeling a little worse after these sentences of McCarthy's:
And so the culture of life slides a little more. The culture of death gains a firmer foothold....Brazen, instant savagery might wake us from our slumber. For the culture of death, better that we sleep.
Update (dangit): Replaced "present a conflicting picture" with "present a very different picture" because "present a conflicting picture...than does he" sounds wrong grammatically. I need to preview and proofread.
Monday, March 21, 2005
On a rather lighter note
Johansen and Wolfson
Three of them (all neurologists) agreed that Terri was in a PVS, and according to Dr. Wolfson "presented strong, academically based, and scientifically supported evidence"
It would seem from Fr. Johansen's article that the two doctors appointed by Michael Schiavo (the third who concurred was court-appointed) were Dr. Ronald Cranford and Dr. Peter Bambikidis. If Fr. Johansen's article is to be believed, both of these men's examinations should be viewed with skepticism and Dr. Cranford with some suspicion generally.
However, Mr. McCabe also points out that Fr. Johansen's claims of neglect by Michael Schiavo conflict with Dr. Wolfson's findings to the contrary. He says there are several statements, but doesn't cite them specifically. The one that I most notice is Fr. Johansen's claim that Terri "developed decubitus (skin) ulcers on her buttocks and thighs," while Dr. Wolfson says "It is notable that through more than thirteen years after Theresa's collapse, she has never had a bedsore."
As the neglect question doesn't pertain directly to the cerebral cortex issue, I have to suppose that Mr. McCabe brought it up to impeach the credibility of Fr. Johansen's article. Which I think is a legitmate consideration--the Wolfson report and the Johansen article seem to be in conflict generally. I'm not ready to cast aside all of the facts and opinions cited in Fr. Johansen's article, but it is difficult to see how one can accept all of both the Wolfson report, with its view not only of Terri Schiavo's condition but of Michael Schiavo's actions and motivations, and the Johansen article.
I still haven't seen a persuasive reason for never doing an MRI, and I don't know of anything to contradict Fr. Johansen's negative characterization of the exams by Drs. Cranford and Bambikidis.
However, Fr. Johansen, who has his own blog, would be more persuasive if he could account for the discrepancy about the bedsores and, ideally, address the general conflict between his and Dr. Wolfson's views of Michael Schiavo's actions and motivations throughout the whole affair.
Update: Fr. Rob Johansen replies here. He cites the three and a half month gap in time between Dr. Wolfson's report and his article to account for the apparent discrepency regarding bedsores. That aside, Dr. Wolfson in his report seems to take a rather positive view of Michael Schiavo's care of Terri in all the time up to his report, and I was under the impression Fr. Johansen alleges neglect to also have taken place before December of 2003. But I could have misread one or the other.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Terri Schiavo's cerebral cortex
However, my question has to do with this: Both it and this hateful diatribe he cites here talk about her cerebral cortex having degenerated to or being replaced by fluid. Dr. Wolfson, the guardian ad litem whom each of those posts and articles cite, said on page 31 of his report that Terri Schiavo's "neurological tests and CT scans....indicated that her cerebral cortex is principally liquid." But the rather credible sounding doctors in this article say that a CT scan is insufficient to reach such a conclusion, that necessary steps in making such a diagnosis are MRIs and PET scans. That article also asserts that Michael Schiavo never allowed any MRIs or PET scans to take place. It addresses persuasively one explanation Schiavo's attorney offered for that refusal. I haven't seen any others offered by Mr. Schiavo or his lawyer.
That leaves me continuing to wonder why Mr. Schiavo, acting in good faith to provide the best care for his wife, would prevent an MRI and PET scan from being done. If anyone at all can explain this to me, I'd appreciate it. In the absence of such an explanation, I'm curious whether that factor affects the thinking of those describing her cerebral cortex as liquid.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
Just so we're not clear at all...
So I think that's settled.
I used to work in Customer Support for a particular software program (The Raiser's Edge from Blackbaud), and a co-worker of mine and I would make fun of how freakin' long-winded I am.
"What are you grinning at over there, Lewis?" I'd yell at him while I had the phone muted between making my interminable points to some poor client about how best to use the program. "You're thinking to yourself, 'He sure is a windy bastard, aren't you?'"
"You windy bastard," he'd say, and I'd go back to expounding how really to get the most of the Query module in six times more detail than the client actually wanted. Some of the time, of course, the client wanted me to solve problems that were actually hard. Sometimes the question was so simple there was really nothing to say. But sometimes I could tell that the client didn't really know how to use the program as well as she thought she did, and after answering the actual question, I'd tack on some extra explanation, beginning with "Just so we're clear here...."
It became the key element is Lewis's impression of me: "Just so we're clear...."
I am long-winded and will surely be so here, expounding all manner of subjects at unreasonable length. And my defense, as always, is that I just want to make everything clear.
UPDATE: Settled?? Yeah, right. Changing the URL yet again.
To coin a cliche
I don't know whether there's a landfill crisis. I don't know different kinds of civilian and military aircraft. I don't know what we'll do for energy once oil's not an option or what we'll ultimately have to do to ensure a supply of oil.
I don't know what I'll do for a career next year.
I grew up with a forester for a father, went camping all the time, was in the Boy Scouts, and had a lot of woods right by my house as a kid, but beyond Maple generally, Hemlock, and maybe White Pine, I can't really distinuish different kinds of trees. I don't know one kind of fish from another.
Where my food comes from and how it gets to me is pretty much a mystery. I buy it at a grocery store or restaurant. What happens before that could be pretty much anything. It would seem sensible to get a clue about how unknown strangers are farming, processing, preparing, packaging, and selling what I eat.
I don't know remotely enough science to be able to critically evaluate the theory of evolution and accept it or not because of whether I agree with the science instead of someone else telling me it is or isn't so. I don't know enough theology to know if I could reconcile for myself evolution with Christianity. And I don't know where all that will lead if I ever do work through it.
Between 12 years of high school and four years of college, I took classes including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, biology, physics, psychology, and philosophy, and I only have the most pitiful rudimentary grasp of any of that.
I have a B.A. in History from a perfectly good college (though not so great of a History department, frankly), and my historical knowledge is meager and contemptible. The gaps in it are shocking, and dominant. Among the many historical topics of which my knowledge is woeful are the Roman Republic/Empire, the ancient world otherwise, Britain generally, the Rennaissance, the Vietnam War, the Muslim world, India, Revolutionary & post-Revolutionary France, the 18th & 19th century unification of Germany, the recent U.N. scandals, the early Christian church, Latin America generally but in the 1970s and 80s especially, Cuba (especially the behavior of Ernesto "Che" Guevara), and much of World War II.
If I'm that ignorant of something I hold a Bachelor's degree in, imagine how much I have to learn about everything else in the world.
There's a lot of subject matter to explore here, for my own benefit. To the extent anyone else benefits, so much the better.
Update: Holy Crap. At least less than 2 months ago isn't AS bad as seven or nine months, but I got to thinking that since my principal goal here is to know more, and to help others to know more if it works out that way, I'd try toknowmore.blogspot. Come. On. It's another single post. January 24th [of this year, at least]: one post, and that's it. Unbelievable.
In Which I Discover the Obvious
Pale isn't the point.
Damn you, M. Night Jordan! [Or, alternatively, please help me out here, M. Night Jordan. I know I've had this blog less than 24 hours, but this is 10 posts in that time, versus your 1 in 7 months. C'mon, have a heart.]
Lynn Swann for Governor?
Though I gotta say, this guy at Slant Point describes the Cowboys who got their butts whipped by Steelers dynasty in the 70s as the beloved team of his childhood. I'm a few months away from 29, and those Steelers championships were while I was a toddler, really--younger than four. He's got a photo posted; is he really that much older than I?
Anyway, I sure wouldn't mind finding some actual stands on policy issues by Lynn Swann.
Update: Question mark added to post title. So far, this is only a possibility, not an endorsement.
Photographic evidence is often a bit shocking
B. Islam is not my religion of choice, but, boy, can they do a good mosque.
C. Two points on this: While I was once in Istanbul at age 22, I once missed what amounts to a date with an appealing Turkish girl due to confusion, doubt, and--I'll say in my own defense--a poor telephone system. [Cop-out. Could've kept trying.] So while I can't reach any worthwhile conclusions about the specific women in Geraghty's photo linked herein, I can sympathize with his general point about Turkish women. Also, here's a confession of which I'm rather ashamed: I ate at least once at a McDonald's in Istanbul. Man, it seems more than a little wrong to eat at McDonald's in the USA. But in Istanbul? I am appropriately full of shame.
Update: The word "shocking" in the post title and the italics in the first word of the post were bad judgment, as they may imply insult. For whatever degree to which that comment was or appeared derogatory, I certainly apologize. He's a perfectly normal-looking guy, which means he's better looking than I am, and it's reckless as well as ill-mannered for me to say anything that could imply otherwise. Mostly, though, I remain, if not shocked, distressed, I think, that he appears to be about my age, rather than reassuringly a decade or two older. The troubling reality of how little I've accomplished is brought into focus when I compare to the accomplishments of people my own age.
I've e-mailed Mr. Geraghty to convey essentially the above.
"You're defining 'Predation' as what, again?"
Feelings, get out of my life.
A few of the lyrics:
FeelingsWow. Just...profound, man. Of course, I'm also reasonably drunk.
Feelings like I wanna deck you
Feelings like I've gotta get you
Out of my life
Feelings, oh oh feelings
The hate's in my eyes
Feelings, oh oh feelings
You're not very nice
Friday, March 18, 2005
Speaking of Auspicious Beginnings...
So I figured before I dove into setting this junk up, I'd take a look at how a friend of mine, also no expert in this field, handled her blog that she had on Blogspot for a little while last year. It was a sort of experimental novel she found herself writing about a woman in a flood. It had something to do with the superstition about throwing salt over your shoulder, and the title and URL had something to do with salt. Saltsomethingorother.blogspot, you know. Tried to remember 10 months after the fact what it was called and entered saltblog.blogspot.com. Wrrrong. Take a look at that link. That's weird as hell. Really freaky. I'm a guy named Steve, who's only JUST set up his Blogger account, and I discover that? I was thinking for a minute, "Holy Crap, what setting did I have on that made it do that? I didn't ask for a sample. What's going on? Why would I link to MSNBC?"
OK, you know what? I'll be honest; I'm still kind of thinking that. I live in a world of paranoia. At this moment, I'm unsure of whether everyone else sees the same thing at site as I do. (Or would see, if I had any readers. Yet. [He adds optimistically.]) I, the village idiot, remain unconvinced that Blogger wasn't/isn't just giving me some kind of, well, sample blog. It does say "Sample Blog" right under where it says "Steve's Blog." This would be very unsettling, because I don't like Blogger doing things for me that it's not telling me it's doing. Mostly, I was, and am, thinking it's just a reeeally weird coincidence. But I also sort of feel further research is required. And then maybe a change in the template here to whatever site design best conveys outright paranoia.
[Incidentally, my friend's site was saltmyth.blogspot.com.]
Then-- this: Because I expect the hypothetical reader of my site to often react with, "What? If that's new information to you, if that's what passes for insight around here, you must be ignorant or stupid, or both," I wanted a blog title that would stipulate at the outset that I'm not that bright or knowledgeable so that no one has to get annoyed or upset or insulting when they discover it. The title "No Expert" seems to concisely and directly convey that, but go to the URL with those words and you get this. Whatever else one may say about its content and writing style, that's a blog that hasn't been updated since its very first post, seven months ago. Thanks a lot, M. Night Jordan.
(I whine, but for all I know I'll end up changing the title and URL by the time I've got any readers.)
Update: Yeah, so never mind. That was easily changed, and retroactive. Post becomes moot, in fact, and I'd delete it, except there seems to be some kind of principle prohibiting it. I'm not saying I hold it against fad for doing that with his, but it does drive me freakin' nuts when he does, since I miss stuff, and also I might be apt to delete something for a more dishonest reason in a situation that's more meaningful if I set that precedent for myself, so I better not get into that habit.
Updated again: Made a link. Woo-hoo. I'm like a little blogging baby who just said his first word. And it was fad. Auspicious beginning.
Keep mouth shut or prepare for foot insertion?
On the other hand, I tend to regret even more many things that I haven't done. So we'll call this step at least Action over Inaction. There are things that I'd like to say. The urge to express one's self isn't something I fully understand, frankly, but it is something that gnaws at me. More importantly, I like to think, there are things I want to understand and to learn, and writing is valuable to that end. Putting thoughts into words is essential, I think, to thinking rationally, and organizing my knowledge and ideas into paragraphs forces me to confront how little I really know and why I think what I think. The hope is that this endeavor will allow me to improve both my writing and my knowledge and understanding of both blogging itself and multitude of subjects that I'm interested but lack a decent grasp of.
I anticipate discussing many topics at a level well beneath the expertise of many hypothetical readers. That [at least right now] doesn't bother me, and it shouldn't bother said HRs. I write about such matters, including the stunningly elementary bits of information therein, to educate myself more than them (you?). I'm no expert on much of anything, but this project will hopefully be a more useful outpouring of words than the talking about nothing that goes on so much both on the web and in life.
Bear with me, Hypothetical Readers; I haven't even learned a thing about HTML yet.