Saturday, April 06, 2002

Analyze this : Risk/benefit analysis is something we humans do constantly as part of our decision making processes, mostly because just about anything we do or don't do involves some degree of risk. Fortunately for most of those kinds of decisions we have to make in our day-to-day lives most of us are pretty good at it. Unfortunately it seems that when it comes to the Big Things(tm) most of us aren't particularly good at it.

As far as I can tell a big part of the problem is faulty data. And where does a lot of this faulty data come from? The media.

Most of my friends are older than I - don't ask me why, just the way things work out. They're mostly forty-somethings, mostly white, mostly middle-class, mostly female. Most of my friends live with a kind of low-level terror that at any minute they will be assaulted, robbed, maimed, raped, and/or murdered. They truly believe that they are at very high risk for any and all of the above and make decisions in part based on this belief. They believe this in large measure because of what they see in the media. Turn on the morning news, pick up a newspaper, flip through one of the endless number of women's mags, and it's not hard at all to see why they've come to this conclusion, why they believe their risk is high.

It doesn't take much study of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports to discover that my friends (and, indeed, myself) are really at comparatively quite low risk for being the victim of a major crime. Realistically, compared to white males their age, let alone black females or, especially, black males, their actual risk is minute.

That's not to say that my friends, or anyone else, shouldn't be concerned with their risk of being a victim of crime or shouldn't take reasonable precautions. Like any generality, statistical risk is useless when applied to the specific. If your risk of getting hit by a meteor whilst picking up your mail is one in one hundred trillion and it happens, well the probability of it happening just became 100%. Their risk is not zero by any stretch of the imagination and it would be foolish to treat it as though it were. But their risk is also not nearly so high as they think, not even close, and that too can lead to foolish decisions.

The problem is that to make good decisions based on risk analysis you have to have reasonably accurate data to work with. And yet almost no one has a vested interest in giving you accurate data.

Take breast cancer, a subject much on my mind of late for obvious reasons. Most of you have seen breast cancer PSAs, read articles about it in newspapers and magazines, and/or have seen segments on the news about it. You've almost certainly heard the statistics on breast cancer incidents for women, the number you've most likely heard is that one in eight women will get breast cancer. While true as far as it goes, that number is severely padded. For starters it assumes that all women live to be eight-five years old. I'm sorry, but most of us will not live that long, it is well beyond the current average lifespan. But, risk for breast cancer, like most other common cancers, goes up with age. By picking a high number they can make the risk appear to be much higher than it really is on average. As it happens, the risk of breast cancer goes up substantially during peri-/post-menopause and peaks in the mid-eighties. By picking eighty-five, rather than a more realistic number, the probability goes substantially up and the risk looks far higher than it really is.

The other thing this number doesn't tell you is that breast cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. Most breast cancers will be caught when they are Stage 0 or Stage I (for the purposes of this discussion I'm ignoring male breast cancer - yes, guys, you are at risk, albeit low, as well - which, though relatively uncommon in this country, is generally not caught until Stage IV and is thus usually has an extremely poor prognosis). Most breast cancers occur in older women, usually well post-menopausal. It is a perversity of breast cancer that the older you are when you come down with it the better your chances of surviving it, the younger you are the less chance you have of surviving it. There are a number of reasons for this, mostly boiling down to the fact that most breast cancers are hormonally dependant. The fact of the matter is that even without surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation, SERMs (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators), anti-Aromatase (Aromatase being the enzyme responsible for converting Androgens to Estrogens) agents, and other adjuvant or prophylactic therapies, most incidences of breast cancer will not kill you. No one is entirely sure why, but most breast cancers grow extremely slowly and do not seem to metastasize easily. Others grow extremely rapidly and metastasize quite easily. Because we cannot yet discern one from the other (they are working on it and making good progress) they have to treat all cases of breast cancer as though they may be the latter even though most are the former. It becomes a probability game with maximizing one's chances of surviving being the end goal. In the end it means that a lot of people get nasty treatments that do them no good whatsoever. Lacking an accurate crystal ball, you don't have any other reasonable choice.

To give you a real-world example of what I mean by that, I'll use my friend as an example. She was Stage II (in actuality she was Stage IV, they just didn't know it at the time), somewhat further along than such cancers are often caught. The cancer was what is called ductal invasive (also referred to as invasive ductal carcinoma). The tumor mass was removed via left modified radical mastectomy (she had the option of a lumpectomy but decided against it). Upon examination it was shown to be negative for Estrogen receptors, only slightly positive for Progesterone receptors - thus SERMs and other hormone related adjuvant therapies would be of little use. Given all of that, with surgery alone her probability of surviving long-term was believed to be roughly 60%. Chemotherapy would raise that probability by 20% to 80%. Now chemotherapy means pumping some of the nastiest drugs known to humanity into your system. It is a miserable experience, to say the least and there is a risk that the chemo alone will kill you. Is that worth it for a 20% increase in your chances of being around to see your next half-dozen birthdays? To most people, including her, yes, very much so. But, and it's a very big but, there was a 60% chance she didn't need the chemo at all and it was unnecessary, and there was a 20% chance that the chemo would do no real good. Because they couldn't know which it was - 60% chance she didn't need it, 20% chance it would save her, 20% chance it would do no good - the only reasonable choice was to go through it and hope for the best.

The long and short of it is that for most of us the actual lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is lower than the one in eight number commonly bandied about and most forms of breast cancer are survivable in the extreme - for intraductal, survival rates are better than 99%, for instance. That does not mean that one should not be at all concerned with breast cancer, of course. A lot of women and a few men are dying from it every year. Given that I'm now caring, near 24/7, for someone at serious risk of being one of them, I know this better than most.

However the fact remains that most of what you hear and read on the subject is anywhere from overblown to flat out wrong. Most of us do not have a realistic view of our actual risk. We think the risk is higher than it is because that is what we have been told over and over and over again.

It isn't just probability of risk that one has to look at in risk analysis, of course, there is also the magnitude of the consequences should the risk come to pass to consider and it's an element that's often forgotten.

I take a pill every day for a relatively minor medical problem. Now there are a half-dozen or so ways to go about treating this problem, but mostly it boils down to two possible drugs.

One drug is reasonably effective at solving the problem, in most instances plenty effective enough, but it also carries with it some near universal minor side effects. These boil down to having to make sure you drink plenty of water because the drug is a mild diuretic and having to make sure there is plenty of salt in your diet as the drug will otherwise tend to cause an electrolyte imbalance (it causes your body to retain potassium). Neither of these side-effects are of any real concern as long as you are aware of them and how to ensure they don't cause you any real problems. Other than those two minor side-effects, the drug is completely safe in an otherwise healthy individual.

The second drug is extremely effective, far more so than the first. In the vast majority of cases it will cause no side effects whatsoever. But in a tiny percentage of those who take it this drug it will induce hepatotoxicity - essentially their liver will suddenly fail, no one really knows why. If that happens you will die very quickly and there is little or nothing that can be done for it. The risk can be minimized slightly by doing periodic blood tests (specifically, what is referred to as a liver panel) to look for early signs, but such tests might or might not catch it in time.

Given this, I chose the former drug even though the latter drug is more effective and carries far fewer common side-effects. Risk analysis is a very personal thing, we all vary in how risk-averse we are and what sorts of risks we will find acceptable. To me, even though the probability of a problem with the latter drug is exceedingly low, the magnitude of the risk - if it happens you're pretty much toast - is unacceptable to me. Probability is not the determiner here in my decision, magnitude is. In this instance when given the choice I'd rather deal with a high probability risk with a negligible magnitude than a an exceedingly low probability risk with a lethal magnitude. I know a number of people with problems similar to mine who have made the exact opposite decision for a variety or reasons - in this sort of thing there most often is no "right" answer.

I suspect this magnitude issue is part of the problem people have with flying. Even before the September 11th terrorist atrocities turned air travel into a nightmare, many people would have rather driven from point A to point B than fly. There are a variety of reasons for this, some obvious and some not, but a big part of it is assumptions about consequences if something goes wrong - magnitude of risk. Most people are aware that air crashes are relatively rare, but the magnitude when one does occur is huge. This isn't, as is often assumed, simply a matter of how many people die. In part it is a perception that if you are in a car wreck at least you have some chance of surviving - many of us have indeed survived car wrecks that utterly totalled the vehicle but we walked away relatively unscathed. If a plane slams into the tarmac on landing or breaks up at three thousand feet, that isn't going to happen - the fat lady hath sung at that point and you're likely going to be a three angstrom thick smear somewhere. People are aware that the probability of being in a car wreck is higher than that of being in a plane crash, but the perception is understandably that the magnitude of the consequences should you be in a plane crash is far higher. Even if you factor in the fact that your chances of dying in a car wreck are far higher, on a per mile traveled basis, than those of your dying in a plane crash, it's still difficult to factor out the magnitude issue.

In a lot of instances we do have some sort of feel for the magnitude of a risk even if we don't have a good feel for the actual probability. Even if we don't know what our real lifetime risk of being murdered is, for instance, we do have a pretty darn good idea of what the magnitude of the consequences are if it were to happen - it's self-evident, given that, pretty much by definition, no one ever recovers from being murdered. But when magnitude is less obvious we often have as little idea of the real magnitude of the consequences should a particular risk come to pass as we do of the actual probability of said risk.

It isn't that good information isn't available on these and so many other subjects, especially not in the age of the 'net and FCYA ("Fact Checking Your Ass" - though what a donkey has to do with it, I've no idea). But most people aren't going to look for themselves. Sometimes it's difficult - Trying to decode med-speak, for instance, can be daunting if you don't have a background in the subject. More often it's a matter of laziness combined with misplaced trust.

We don't want to do the work necessary to understand things. We want, expect, the media and the experts to give us the straight dope, to tell us what's going on and what the real risks are. This is most often foolish in the extreme. It assumes that there is a single real answer, straight dope, to be had when with most things there's a continuum of opinion. It assumes that it's even possible to explain the reality of something without having any background in the basic subject at hand. And, most of all, it assumes that the media and those experts would give you the straight dope even if they had it. The thing is that in the main there's no reason they would wish to, they have a vested interest in exactly the opposite.

The media is about sensationalism, it probably always will be. Why "If it bleeds, it leads"? Because that's sensational, that's what brings in the viewers, that's what serves the needs and desires of the media in question. The media is inherently going to scream as loud as it can for your attention. Most of us are strongly driven by fear, playing on that gets our attention.

The media, by and large, gets its information from groups and people who have a vested interest in trying to maximize your fear. Convincing you that your chances of getting and dying from breast cancer are extremely high is far more likely to get you to send in money, tell your congresscritter to vote for increased funding, or what have you than if they gave you the straight dope. Law enforcement is in the unenviable position of trying to convince you that they're doing a great job whilst simultaneously making you scared you're going to be the victim of a crime so that you'll agree to their having more money and more power. Everyone with a cause wants you to believe that their particular cause is of the greatest importance and one of the easiest and surest ways of doing that is to play on your fears. Sometimes this just involves a little exaggeration, manipulation of perception, or padding of numbers, other times it's just outright lies.

It's not surprising that any of this occurs and there really isn't anything new about it - save how easy it is to try and reach lots of people. What is surprising is how well it works, how credulous people are.

That needs to change, and badly. As a society and as individuals too many decisions - from the allocation of resources for medical research to how much power the government should have - are being made based on faulty information and poor risk/benefit analysis.

When someone makes a claim, fact check their donkey. Yeah, it takes a little time, but it's better than letting all the vested interests out there play you like a fiddle.

Friday, April 05, 2002

Has the world gone completely insane? : Someone please tell me this is a late April Fools day prank. Please, please, please? I read it, but I just can't believe it.

Nobel's regrets on Peres award

Short story shorter, they'd love to yank Mr. Peres' prize over what Israel has done to defend itself from endless terrorist bombings, but unfortunately they can't. Not word one about Arafat, except the fear that he might be killed.

Never assume malice as an explanation when stupidity alone will suffice. But I can't see any possible way that stupidity alone could explain this. Are they displaying evil, as The Professor (to whom I owe thanks for the absent banner advert) suggests? I can't come up with a better explanation. It is not possible for them to be unaware of the various and myriad terrorist actions of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Arafat and those under him. And yet, not a mention. Even the Pope saw fit, if as an afterthought, to denounce Palestinian terror. Not here, not even an attempt at moral equivalency here, no calls to end the "cycle of violence", nada.

There has been talk in several 'blogs about how it is almost like we're right back at the late 1930's again. Up until this morning I thought such talk hyperbole. Yes, in some quarters anti-Semitism was getting out of hand, but still. After reading about the Nobel Committee's comments, now I have to wonder.

OpinionJournal has been banging on the fact that Arafat got a Nobel Peace Prize for a while now. Yeah, yeah, we know, so obviously they screwed up and hopefully they feel embarrassed about it. Apparently not. Obviously it's all Israel's fault. If they weren't there then it wouldn't be necessary to blow them up.

Other committee members argue that the Israeli government's actions in general and Mr Peres' involvement in particular are threatening to bring the prize into disrepute.

Too late.
Where's the pony express when you need them? : Dr. Weevil pens a letter full of helpful advice for Arafat. (link via PejmanPundit)
Pop culture check : Ozzy Osbourne invited to the White House for dinner? Wait a darn minute, that can't be true. President Bush is totally out of touch with popular culture so how could he even know who Ozzy is or that he has a new cable TV show? Bush couldn't possible be a big fan, it's obviously a mistake. I'm mean, President Bush is just like his father, who didn't even know what a supermarket scanner was.

Right? Right?

Thursday, April 04, 2002

What friendly skies? : Via cut on the bias we get to this fascinating article on how well airport security has improved since September 11th.

A security officer at Tampa International Airport paused over a bag in the X-ray machine Tuesday when the outline of a gun showed on the screen.

As the screener and supervisors called police, the bag's owner reached in, grabbed the bag, and walked away, back toward the main terminal.

You can imagine what kind of nightmare for everyone in the terminal ensued from that.

How does this keep happening? Wasn't federalizing the airport screeners supposed to improve things (har-har!)? If this is an improvement I'd hate to see what it'd be like if they got worse. If you see someone putting a bag on the conveyor that you think has a gun in it wouldn't it maybe make sense to make sure that someone was keeping an eye on him? Not to mention try and make sure that he doesn't retrieve the gun? This seems like really basic law enforcement.

Granted, this guy probably wasn't a threat to anyone, the article goes on to mention two instances where people innocently brought guns into the airport or onto a plane. Yes, it does happen. God knows I carry a half dozen things in my purse that airport security might object to - given that things like tweezers, nail files, and knitting needles now need to be registered as deadly weapons - and with all the things going on when one is traveling you just don't always think of those things you carry all the time as a matter of course. I don't own a gun (sometimes I think I should), but I've been around them enough to know that for those that do it just isn't that big a deal. They should think of it, given the circumstances - forgetting about the gun you've got in your briefcase when you go to the airport is a little more than an "oopsie!" - but I don't have a hard time imagining how it happens perfectly innocently. If that happens, they catch it, and you happen to notice that no one is watching you it's probably pretty darn tempting, given the legal consequences of hanging around, to just think "Hey, I'll scram and no one will be the wiser.". Apparently that's exactly the case.

It's been flogged to death just about everywhere, but I'm going to flog this dead horse myself - your best line of defense is not the bad joke that is airport security, it's your fellow passengers who are now more than abundantly aware that if someone tries to take over a plane everyone's first, last, and only reasonable chance is to do something and do it quickly.

Remember Logan airport, where two of the airplanes involved in the September 11th terrorist atrocities were hijacked out of? What do you suppose they're worrying about these days?

Massport officials are working with the Army to devise a way to protect Logan International Airport from a bioterror strike or a crude nuclear weapon attack.


He noted that while there's no specific knowledge Logan might be targeted in such a nefarious plot, officials nationwide are studying how to guard against those types of attacks after reports surfaced last fall that terrorists might have access to crude chemical or nuclear weapons.

They can't even get their act together when it comes to screening passengers, air travel has turned into everyone's worst nightmare, there's no hint that anyone intends to use a dirty nuke or a bioterror weapon on an airport, but they want new electronic toys.

I'm all for trying to come up with ways to protect airports and anyplace else where lots of people meet as much as possible. But for god's sake, get the basics right before you start worrying and spending huge amounts of money on such low-probability attacks.

It probably sounds unreasonable for me to bash them over this and maybe it is. The whole way things have been handled at Logan since the terrorist atrocity of September 11th has just disgusted me. The soon to be ex-Acting Governor, Jane Swift, has acted like it was Boston that was attacked, rather than acknowledging that her people screwed up bigtime. The mayor of Boston, Thomas "Mumbles" Menino, seemed almost eager for an attack here. The only real change that seemed to occur at Massport was Virginia "Ginny" Buckingham (then head of Massport) falling on her sword to the tune of $180,850 severance, among other perks, before the screaming got so loud they had to reduce it, if only slightly. As Howie Carr put it -

This is the great Brinks heist of 2001 - $180,000 for . . . what exactly? She ran an airport so amenable to terrorists that they flew not one, but two flights out of Logan and turned them into missiles. Thousands of Americans are dead and [Ginny Buckingham] goes home to the North Shore with not a golden, but a platinum parachute.

They can't even get the basics right, no one wants to clean house, air travel is a nightmarish disaster, but that's okay, that's all right. They're going to get some neat new toys and that'll make it all better.
Start the presses, redux : I did it again *sigh*, though this time I think I know what I'm doing wrong. I just wish there was some way to edit the raw HTML entries to correct mistakes like this as Blogger won't seem to allow me to.

Anyway, VodkaPundit is back behind the bar. Go order something cool and intoxicating, ignore the gerbil fur on the glass.

Update: Okay, I can in safe mode. Sheesh, you'd think I would have figured that out before this.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? : I was reading about how the Pope was accusing Israel of "humiliating" the Palestinians. Now apparently the Pope also denounced Palestinian suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism, but we don't learn about that until the second paragraph. Apparently both the Times and the Pope feel that denouncing "humiliation" is far more important than denouncing suicidal murderers who blow themselves up and try and take as many random civilians with them as possible.

The thing is, this is common and it was common way before the current mess even started. In fact it's so common that I have to wonder if most people even notice it anymore.

Turn on the news in the morning and you'll see it. Segment comes up - "The Israeli Defense Forces blasted their way into an idyllic Palestinian settlement this morning, killing five Hamas peace activists and wounding three others who they ludicrously claim where making car bombs.". Cut to grieving father talking about how his psychopathic son was really a good boy and he hopes his son managed to kill as many Israelis as possible before they got him. Cut to Arafat crony blathering about criminal Israeli behavior, the world should help the Palestinians drive them into the sea, blah-blah-blah. The last ten seconds of a three minute segment a voiceover says "And, oh yeah, in unrelated news a Palestinian peace activist 'accidentally' blew himself up in an Israeli disco killing five and wounding eight.". End segment.

This purposeful disconnect between cause and effect is utterly bizarre. What would you think if you turned on the news in the morning and watched a segment on how forty houses and three office buildings fell down in Northern Japan. Dozens killed, hundreds injured, five minutes of scenes of the devastation and carnage. Then, at the very end of the segment, just as we're about to fade to the talking head, they mention that the reason all of these buildings failed is that there was an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale? Up until that very last sentence as far as you know it was bad construction, a typhoon, or just a random act of god. Wouldn't that seem pretty darn bizarre?

But it's not just in the news, it permeates a lot of the discussion. On The Captain's excellent discussion group someone recently asked me something along the lines of "Well how would you feel if the Israelis were bulldozing down your houses?". God knows that would get me pretty urinated, to say the least, but it's presented here as though some Israeli IDF Colonel was waking up in the morning, can't find his pants, his wife gives him a hard time, there's no coffee in the house, so he goes to his men and says "Boys, fire up the bulldozers, I'm in a really bad mood and I feel like knocking down some Palestinian houses.". Now I don't think that bulldozing down houses was necessarily the brightest of moves, but presenting it as though the Israelis were just doing it at random just to be bastards is beyond ludicrous. There was nothing random about it nor were they doing it for no reason.

The reason for this attempt at disconnect is not hard to discern. If you can present the Israeli actions in the worst light possible then either not mention or only briefly mention (hoping that no one notices) the reasons for them you can try and set the impression that the Israelis are just being bastards in concrete. But why would you think that you could get away with this, that no one would notice?

Take this from Tal G.'s (now added to the 'blogroll along with PejmanPundit - someone call Alex Beam) website (no direct link, scroll down) -

What I've seen in American and European media is a total disconnect between what Israel is doing in Ramallah and the 60 or so Palestinian bombings of the past month. Let me inform anyone reading that it is in fact the case that the latter that has predicated the former. Instead of saying "Arafat hangs up on CNN to dodge terrorism question", an AP dispatch said that he "criticized pro-Israeli bias".

He's right, of course, and he's hardly the only one who is noticing. Does the media think we wouldn't? Do they think we're that stupid? Do they think that their bias isn't showing like a fifty foot flag on a windy day?

Fortunately, and I hope this comes as some consolation to people like Tal G., it doesn't seem that it is working. Take this CBS poll -

By nearly three to one, Americans say Israel was justified in taking military action in response to the latest wave of terrorist bombings that began last week. Sixty-five percent think the response was justified, 23 percent that it was not.

I'd imagine this is a matter of some confusion for those who don't live in this country, but that so many Americans agree on anything is simply stunning. The "cycle of violence" excuses, the near worship of Arafat in media and diplomatic circles, the attempts at setting the tone of the discussion by trying to ignore one side, it isn't working, at least not here.

With all due respect to the Pope, I frankly don't care if someone has been "humiliated", that's not even remotely approaching a reasonable excuse for terrorist bombings.
The hope of 'blogs : I showed SWVCTM my 'blog so she could see what I'd written about her recent problems. She'd heard of 'blogs, of course, but hadn't really read any (she does read The Bleat every day, but that's really not a 'blog as the term is commonly used). She started following my "Daily Reads" links to get a feel for what they were about.

"Well that's hopeful," she said after a while of this.

"What is?" Asked I.

"'Blogs, they give me some hope things aren't going to hell in a handbasket."

"What do you mean?"

"Well all these people, all different ages and occupations and whatever, they're all involved. They're all paying attention. They're expressing opinions and holding conversations with each other about things that are important instead of just sticking their heads in the sand. That's very hopeful, it goes against the stereotype that no one really cares anymore."

By George, she gets it. Now why is this so hard for old-media types to grasp?

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Well that suck-diddly-ucks : It looks like Vodkapundit (listed to the right) got his liquor license temporarily yanked - apparently the inspector found too many gerbils running around or something. Hopefully he'll be back behind the bar soon.
Don't cry for me : Argentina vows to win back Falklands? Maybe I missed something, but given Argentina's recent problems shouldn't the Falklands be about number two trillion and eight on their "Things to worry about" list?
And the 'blog rolls on redux : Well that's bizarre. I posted this, it came out screwy, and now I can't seem to edit it so I'll try again. Sometimes it would definitely be easier to be doing this in raw HTML.

Two 'blogs added to my "Daily Reads" list that should have been there originally but got lost due to my favorites files being nearly as disorganized as my closet. In any event they are Dodge(y)blog and

Now would somebody please write Alex Beam and let him know that incestuous linking continues to go on in Lower Blogtopia - even here in the slums? I'm sure he can manage to hack out - pretty much the same way my cats do with furballs - a couple of more columns on the subject.

Yeah, I know, I'm late to the party. Yesterday I spent just barely enough time online to note that some bowtied bumkissing hack from the Boring Broadsheet on Morrisey Boulevard (apologies to Howie Carr) had written something that sent a shockwave measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale through the blogosphere and caused many of the inhabitants of Blogtopia to cry out in one (Bugs Bunny) voice "Of course you know, this means war!".

I wasn't going to say anything on the subject, but then I read the thing. My god, that was so bad it deserves to have a word coined to describe it -

Abeam - Writing that is simultaneously ignorant, rude, and gullible.

Let's see... Andrew Sullivan is bad because he has a Middle East peace plan - snark. James Lileks is bad because he doesn't have a Middle East peace plan? Oyvey. There isn't a bowtied bumkisser at the Boring Broadsheet worthy of licking Lileks' Bleat (why he'd want them to is a mystery, but there you have it). And to fall for an obvious April fools joke? Yeah, that was real bright.

Yes, that column was a real abeam.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

From the department of rants :

WARNING - I started writing this about five PM last night and, due to circumstances, didn't finish it until about five AM this morning - I didn't post it until now as I wasn't awake enough when I finished it to proof it. It started off as an attempt at a semi-humorous rant, but about halfway through it ends up taking a right turn and is somewhat depressing. You have been warned.

I just got back from two hours at the hospital...

Hey, stop celebrating, I wasn't the one who was sick!

Well, not physically, anyway.

No, this trip was for SWVCTM (Someone Who's Very Close To Me and prefers to remain nameless). SWVCTM is someone I love dearly, but also someone who has of late had a lot of medical issues. About a year and a half ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer - Stage 2 ductal invasive, for those who know what that means. For those that don't, it means there was a 2cm cancer tumor in her left breast and as best they could determine there were no mets (metastatic occurrences of the cancer elsewhere in her body). It means that with surgery, chemotherapy, and close monitoring she has an 80% chance of being alive in five years. 80% sounds pretty good, until you realize that means she has a 20% chance of not being alive in five years. Granted, it could be a lot worse, but that is definitely not so good.

Anyway, I've been there to support her through all of this and that has meant that I've spent a lot of time in hospitals, chemo wards, doctor's offices, and all the rest. No biggie, I'm only too happy to be there for her and I know she'd be there for me in a heartbeat if the situation was reversed. But it does mean that I've been spending more time around medical-type places than I ever imagined and, I have to tell you, I haven't been impressed with what I've seen.

This latest visit to the hospital comes from a recent problem that may or may not be related to the cancer. For months now she has been having problems with her left arm - pain, increasing weakness, and all that.

Now, mind you, the cancer surgery was on the left side. In doing that surgery they remove a number of lymph nodes to try and determine if the cancer had spread - metastasized. This invariably means that the lymph system on that side, especially the arm, is damaged and there's usually some nerve damage that goes with it. Then there's the worry about mets - a cancer patient's worst nightmare. You see a lot of cancers, and breast cancer is one, won't, in and of themselves, kill you. It's not the breast cancer itself that you have to worry about, it's the mets. When cancer metastasizes it basically means that it has spread to another part of your body - these are referred to as "mets". Technically they're still breast cancer, but if they have spread to a major organ you are in deep, deep doggy do-do (yes, that's the technical term). One of the favorite places cancer likes to spread to is the bone - as in possibly to the shoulder joint, as in possibly causing all kinds of problems with one's arm. Lastly, she had cervical disk surgery about six years ago and the nerves involved effected that arm.

So, above and beyond one's arm becoming really painful and weak not being a Good Thing(tm), she has plenty of medical history to indicate that it could be a Really Bad Thing(tm). For obvious reasons I've been bugging her to see a doctor about it for a while now, but she's even more stubborn than I am - as hard as that is to imagine. She finally discussed it with her Oncologist when her regular post-chemo check-up came around. He basically blew it off at first, then decided that maybe she should see a neurologist about it. Of course there was a month and a half wait before the neurologist could fit her in - that still hasn't happened.

This all came to a head a couple of weeks ago when she was walking into work after lunch and opening the door was enough to cause the arm to shot fifty-thousand volts of pain through her body before going completely limp. Not good, she ended up leaving work, picking me up, and we went to the ER. The ER couldn't tell her a lot other than that her arm wasn't broken - which she already knew. The ER doctor - who I dubbed "Doogie Swede" because he was about seven foot twelve and looked like he was just doing rounds in between his classes at the local high school - evinced the opinion that it was a rotator cuff problem. Why rotator cuff? I've no idea, they didn't run anything that might resemble an actual test or have any real data for a diagnosis other than a quick once over so I guess rotator cuff just sounds really cool. I mean, it does if you think about it. Say it three times really fast, doesn't that sound cool?

They suggested she see her GP. Only one problem, her GP recently and rather suddenly headed to parts unknown without warning - never a good sign when that happens - so she's GP-less. They suggested a new GP for her and she called to make an appointment.

Here I'll continue the narrative by quoting the rant I wrote to my sister shortly after the visit to said GP (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) -

So we find the proper doctor's office and SWVCTM goes up to the counter where, without even actually looking at her, the humorless drone behind the no doubt bullet proof glass (at least I assume it's bullet proof, given they way they seem to hide behind it for safety) hands her a bunch of papers to fill out. These papers, of course, deal with the most important thing a doctor needs to know about you. Namely, how you'll be paying them. I'm all for capitalism and all, but doctors seem to take it to amazingly ludicrous extremes. I love doctor's office paperwork, especially the line that reads "You hereby agree to pay any charges we might dream up above and beyond what your chintzy-ass insurance will pay before we'll touch you with a ten foot pole. Initial here to sign away your life -". Why don't they just put "Abandon your bank accounts, all ye who enter here" over the door?

SWVCTM fills out the how can we best fleece you paperwork and the humorless drone requires the ten dollar co-pay right now. What is it with that, anyway? What, they think you're going to run off after the doctor has seen you without giving them the ten bucks? This after they've just collected every iota of financial information about you possible? I mean, all over ten bucks? Let's see, we're going to charge the insurance company $300 for this visit and, damn, better make sure we get that ten bucks up front 'cause that's where the real profit is? Anyway, SWVCTM gives her a check (bounce that sucker all the way to the bank, drone!) and asks for a receipt. SWVCTM wants a receipt because she's not carrying her purse (sore shoulder and all) and thus doesn't have her Visor, where her checking software is, with her so she can't record the check number. Nope, can't give you a receipt until after you've seen the doctor. Ummm, would somebody explain the logic of that to me? In point of fact they didn't give her a receipt when she left and, after I reminded her, she had to go back and demand one. "Doctor's office" and "efficiency" are mutually exclusive terms.

Anyway, check in hand the humorless drone hands SWVCTM another sheaf of papers to fill out. These actually have to do with her medical history and why she wishes to pass the portal of doom to see a doctor. Not that anyone ever bothers to read such things, at least in my experience. Whenever I've filled them out there's always these check boxes for various conditions you've had or have. Cancer is always on the list, of course, and I've had cancer - albeit a very mild and generally benign form (basal cell carcinoma). No one has ever asked me about that, which seems quite odd to me. I mean, I'm relatively young, tend to look even younger than I am, and cancers in someone my age are pretty darn rare. You'd think somewhere along the line someone might have wondered what in the world kind of cancer it was I'd had - presuming they'd bothered to look at all the paperwork. But, nope, no one ever has.

SWVCTM hands the soon to be filed and ignored medical history paperwork to the humorless drone and sits down. About ten minutes later (shockingly fast, considering) a battle-axe of a nurse comes out and calls her name. SWVCTM gets up, but despite the fact that the waiting room is, save SWVCTM and I, otherwise empty, she keeps looking around. Finally she looks at SWVCTM and calls her name again, as if there might be five other people with the same name in line and she had to decide if she had the right one.

When SWVCTM got up of course so did I and after the battle-axe finally decided that SWVCTM was indeed the correct patient she turns her gaze on me, giving me the once, twice, and three times over with the same disdainful look one might have when examining a new species of flea. "She's with me," says SWVCTM. "Well the doctor isn't going to let her stay while he's doing the exam," says the battle-axe in a tone indicating that this should be abundantly obvious. "Perhaps I should wait out here," I say to SWVCTM. "That would be for the best," says the battle-axe in a tone indicating that it would be even better if I could cease to exist altogether.

So I sit down whilst SWVCTM passes through the portal of doom. Mind you, I've been there with SWVCTM during emergency room visits. I've been there for at least a dozen Oncologist visits. I've been there for literally dozens and dozens and dozens of surgeon visits. I was there for each and every one of the chemotherapy treatments. I was there in the recovery room when they brought her out of surgery both times. I've sat calmly and watched whilst they removed surgical drains (and, in fact, I changed the drains myself several times), sewed her up, stuck big honkin' needles in her and drained dozens and dozens of liters of lymph fluid out of what used to be her left breast. I've watched her be stuck, poked, prodded, sliced, diced, and sewed. In fact the only thing I didn't see was the actual mastectomy surgery, though I saw plenty of the results. None of the myriad doctors involved has had any problem with me being there for any of this as long as it was okay with SWVCTM. All of that I've been there for, more medical visits than most people see in decades, but I can't be present and lend a supportive hand for a simple physical exam? You have to be kidding me, right?

Fortunately SWVCTM was handling all of this better than I. I dunno, I guess after the ER experience I was in an even worse mood towards doctors than usual and ready to raise some serious hell on her behalf. But, fact of the matter is, all of this was par for the course - right down to the battle-axe nurse. Complaining about it would be like complaining about the sun rising. One is free to do so if one wishes, but the impact is exactly zero.

So I sit down and get my Visor out of my purse and start playing a game of Bejweled to pass the time. A couple comes in with their young son. They're in their late twenties somewhere and look like they had their first, last, and only original thought somewhere during the first Reagan administration. The kid looks to be around two and is a serious daddy's boy. In fact he starts throwing a hissy fit almost immediately upon entering because daddy is talking to the humorless drone and won't pick him up. Once done with the humorless drone - apparently they've been there before as the didn't have to fill out the how can we best fleece you paperwork - they sit down and babble endlessly. The mother has little to say other than to repeat things the dad says and to endlessly pester the child who apparently sucks on his thumb so much he's got sores. She brings this up with a regularity that you could set your watch by and it's no damn wonder the kid sucks his thumb, it gets him lots of attention. The other thing the mother babbles about occasionally is that once daddy has gone through the portal of doom - apparently dad is there for a throat problem or some such - she'll take junior out and find an elevator for him to ride up and down in. Oh great, think I, imagining some poor wheelchair bound sap waiting endlessly because they can't get on the elevator because mommy thinks it's a ride at Disneyland. Did I mention that mommy is a blonde? Of the peroxide variety, me thinks.

Daddy, meanwhile, keeps up a running banter with the kid - there's apparently a reason why the kid is a daddy's boy as dad is really pretty good with him - and both dad and kid mostly ignore mom's occasional blathers. I can't say as I can blame them, I lost count of how many times she started babbling about thumb sucking and then trailed off into nothingness - completing sentences was apparently not her strong suit. Daddy is apparently an electrician. How do I surmise this? Well at some point apparently the kid's pants ended up down around his ankles. Daddy asked kid if he was a plumber. That caught my attention as the connection was wholly lost on me. The kid replied in a most annoyed fashion that he was not a plumber, he was an electrician. Daddy replied that he was an electrician but that junior must be a plumber because only plumbers wear their pants that way.

And there you have it, blatant bigotry towards plumbers right there in a doctor's office waiting room.

Somewhere during all of this a relatively short and exceedingly heavy man walked in and sat down kitty-corner to where I was and commences to stare at me with the same look he probably has on his face thumbing through his ragged copies of Hustler. I've no idea what it was that was so fascinating about me, other than that whatever it was it was apparently located somewhere on my chest - perhaps he liked my necklace or something? The earlier couple looked like they'd had their last original thought somewhere during the first Reagan administration, this guy looked like he'd had his last shower somewhere around the first Nixon administration. His breathing sounded like every sci-fi movie you've ever seen where an astronaut is in a spacesuit and it was so loud it would peg a DB meter just past the mark left by a 777 jet turbine on full throttle. I had to almost physically stifle the urge to get up, lean towards where he was sitting, form a near ring with my index finger and thumb, and, in my best James Earl Jones imitation, say "I find your lack of manners disturbing...".

While I was trying to decide which I should do first - take out my cell phone and call the MCAD about the anti-plumber bias or slap Chester the Molester - an old lady walked in. No sooner had she sat down than the battle-axe appears through the portal of doom and starts discussing this woman's various and sundry recent medical problems in a voice nearly loud enough, though not quite, to drown out Chester's labored breathing. A mental movie ran through my mind of my standing up and screaming to no one in particular "What is it with all the sick people around this place? God!" and then storming out - perhaps slapping Chester, stepping on the old woman's foot, kicking the battle-axe in the butt, handing mommy a bottle of cayenne pepper and a clue, and yanking down daddy's pants on my way.

But before I could follow through on my imminently satisfying fantasy, SWVCTM comes out of the portal of doom. We head out the door and into the lady's room next to the doctor's office. Fortunately it was right there as I was now both literally and figuratively full of it.

"So, what did he say?" Asks I.

"You're not going to like it..."

Well that was pretty much a given, wasn't it? "Yes?"

"Rotator cuff."

Aurgh! I scream, then take a discarded roll of toilet paper and use it to try and gouge out my eyes.

Well, not really, but she was right - I didn't like it.

The reason I didn't like it is pretty simple. Given SWVCTM's medical history there are a couple of pretty nasty possible explanations for her problem - up to and including possibly lethal causes. SWVCTM knows this, and it concerns her greatly as it would anyone in her shoes. I know it and it concerns me greatly. I have to assume the doctors know this as well, but they're not willing, for whatever reason, to even contemplate it openly. There are two tests that can be run that would rule out or confirm the nastier possibilities - a bone scan and an MRI. But no one seems to want to run those tests and I can't figure out why unless it's simply that they figure that if it is a bone met there's not really a whole lot they can do and she's toast anyway. Not exactly a comforting thought.

Instead of contemplating any of the nastier possibilities, they keep going back to the rotator cuff thingy. They're starting with what they consider the most likely and easiest to treat possibility. If that doesn't help, presumably they'll move on the next likely possibility. For most people this would make perfect sense, most people don't have a medical history hinting at the possibility of a bone met or another mucked up cervical disk. But when dealing with someone barely a year past chemo and you have no real data to go on except simple range-of-motion tests, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Without any hard data to go on you're basically just guessing and your patient, who knows this, is sitting at home wondering - not without reason - if she's dying.

Well Doctor Rotator-cuff gave her a couple of 'scripts for drugs to treat what he thinks the problem is - a serious muscle relaxer and some mild painkillers. Those helped for a while, at least according to SWVCTM (it's hard to tell sometimes, she's quite stoic about these things), but by this morning apparently things were getting worse. So she called up Dr. Rotator-cuff and, after a couple of tries and voicemail, gets an appointment.

So she goes to the doctor's office with me in tow. SWVCTM goes to see the humorless drone, growls as she writes out the all-important ten dollar check (boingy, boingy, boingy! Bounce that sucker, drone!), and we sit and wait. Not long after, the battle-axe, looking like a sphincter that's been dipped in lemon juice one too many times, emerges and calls for SWVCTM. SWVCTM rises and approaches the portal of doom. Me, I've learned my lesson, I'd have an easier time getting past a hungover cerberus than getting the approval of nurse battle-axe to pass the portal of doom with my friend. I briefly consider making a break for it, I know I can outrun nurse battle-axe if I could just get past her, but no doubt she'd physically block the portal of doom before I could get there. Nah, not worth it.

SWVCTM enters the portal of doom and I take my little MP3 player out of my purse (why yes, I do carry around enough electronics to launch a space shuttle, why do you ask?) and start listening to Creed's "Who's got my back?" - appropriate, somehow. I look around, the place is a lot more crowded than it was last time I was there. No Chester, no mom, dad, and kid. No, it's a whole new crop of sick people there - what's up with that, anyway? Very little entertainment value - you'd think doctor's offices would consider that when scheduling appointments - and everyone seems depressed. Okay, I guess you don't get a lot of people coming into doctor's office waiting rooms who are up and happy, but still...

Then it hit me - it's the music! You see, you'd think everyone in a doctor's waiting room was depressed because they're either sick and unhappy or they're with a loved one who was sick and unhappy. No, I think it goes deeper than that. I wasn't exactly thrilled to be there, I mean I was and am worried as hell about SWVCTM, but I wasn't exactly depressed, either. Maybe that was because I've been in so many doctor's office waiting rooms in the last year and a half that I've just become inured? Nah, it's the music. Or, more specifically, the muzak. I was listening to decent tunes and I was okay, but all of these other poor souls were listening to the muzak being piped in. Who wouldn't be depressed?

See, that's how they get you. Doctor's offices are designed to try and break you down so you're soft and pliant before you pass through the portal of doom. Everything is arranged around this. The oh-so-common waiting two hours to see the doctor because he had a late T-time. The presumably bullet proof glass the humorless drones hide behind. The you'd better give us the ten bucks right now. All of it. But especially the muzak, that's how they really get you. Ten minutes of that and you're ready to do the thorazine shuffle - sans thorazine.

I was just starting to get this theory really worked out and wondering if some sort of white noise generator could be designed to counteract the evil muzak influence, when SWVCTM emerged from the portal of doom.

"How'd it go?" I asked, cramming the MP3 player and earbuds back into my purse and hoping we can get out of there before the evil muzak started to effect me.

At this point I'll have to stop the narrative because any entertainment value I may have been able to mine from it with my demented sense of what I laughingly call humor is gone.

The first trip to the doctor and then hospital today that I started to describe above ended up being more of the same - rotator cuff, more pills, and we want some bloodwork at the hospital. But something happened this evening, right about the time I was writing that last question above, that has changed everything. She had an accident, something that would be very minor to most of us, of no consequence. It left her in excruciating pain, barely able to even tell me what had happened, shaking uncontrollably and unable to move the arm at all. I ended up going to the ER with her again, it's just past 4:30AM now and I just got home.

The ER doctor was impressive, to say the least, by far the best doctor she's seen in the last year and a half of dealing with her medical issues - and that covers a fair number of doctors. He was communicative and he asked all the right questions. He made it abundantly clear that he thought the drugs she had been given were a pathetic joke and the fact that no real tests had been run on her was beyond belief. The first thing he wanted to do was get her on a real pain killer and check the records, including the x-ray, from her last visit to that same ER two weeks ago.

When he came back it was clear from his expression that things were not good. The radiology report from the x-ray "strongly indicated" - medical-speak for we'll never say we're absolutely sure about anything, but this is as close as it gets - a form of bone met. It doesn't take a medical genius to figure out that it would likely have to be a fairly serious one to A) Be causing her this much trouble, and B) Show up clearly on a standard x-ray. He was clearly upset that neither she nor her doctor had been told, he almost couldn't believe that was even possible, and as he is apparently one of the directors of that ER I've no doubt heads will roll come morning. He laid things out for her, really she already knew the drill as this was always a possibility, as best he could without pulling any punches - which is how she always prefers things. Basically they will do a bone scan and/or MRI to try and determine how many mets there are and where they are. If there are many, there's not a lot they can do. If there are only a few they will try and treat them with radiation therapy.

If I remember correctly - and given the circumstances and that I haven't slept in 24 hours, I wouldn't count on that - her chances just went from 80% to around 35%.

Over the last couple of months as it has become apparent that she was having a real problem and talked to her oncologist, the first ER visit, and several times to a GP, I've felt frustrated and angry because I didn't think any of the doctors were taking this seriously enough or were willing to even consider the nastier possibilities. I know she's been scared, and it's very difficult to watch someone you care about try and go about her day-to-day life knowing she's worried that she's dying and no one will tell her. But I don't think, even when I started writing this, that I ever really believed that those nastier possibilities were really there, would really happen. I wanted the doctors to treat this seriously and to do the test to rule those things out so she could stop being scared.

And now to find out that not only is the nastiest of those nasty possibilities real, but that the answer was right there in an ER room file two weeks ago and no one bothered to tell her or her other doctors? That almost defies my ability to comprehend. If anyone had taken any of this seriously and run one simple and perfectly logical under the circumstances test, they could have been treating her for this months ago. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, though at the very least she wouldn't have had to put up with excruciating pain for the last two weeks, but at least she would have known.

I can't even begin to imagine what she must be feeling. I can't even figure out what I'm feeling. I alternate between being too shell shocked to feel much of anything to anger to fury to fear. Lots of fear. I'm afraid I'm going to lose the best friend I've ever known. I'm afraid I'm going to lose someone who means more to me than I can ever say. I'm afraid I'm going to lose someone who has been there for me in my darkest hour and without whom I might not even be here today.

Twelve or so hours ago, when I started writing this, I could make light of the way everyone tends to get jerked around at the doctor's office. Make light of the absurd dance we all have to go through to please the medical demigods. Make light and in doing so vent a little of my frustration.

This morning it doesn't seem so funny.

Monday, April 01, 2002

I just don't get it : A lot of what's being written lately about the whole mess in Israel just makes me go "Huh?". Take this wapo article for instance -

"Palestinian terror has changed its face," wrote Nahum Barnea, a widely read columnist in the Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper. "In 1982 it was the job of professionals. Today it is popular sport, the grand aspiration of thousands of Palestinian girls and boys. You can kill, deport and deter professionals. There is no military way to fight suicide bombers."

Save the last sentence, that seems to be a fairly accurate assessment. Now think about that for a minute, blowing yourself to kingdom come and trying to splatter the major organs of as many random people as you can all over the place is a "sport". A society that manages to convince a majority of its population that strapping a bomb to yourself and walking into a mall is a good thing, something everyone should want to do, is demented beyond measure.

A sport. Hey, why not? It's even lucrative. Well, not for the demented soul that blows themselves to kingdom come, they're not in much condition to be paid anything. But their family will get a big honkin' check from Saddam and Arafat. Of course the demented soul is hoping for those 72 virgins (or white grapes, whichever) in the afterlife, though somehow I think they're going to be a tad disappointed.

There are signs the Israeli government does not know exactly what goal it is pursuing against the Palestinians, or how the endgame might be played out. Government ministers and army generals are increasingly frank about Israel's need to punish the Palestinians or "teach them a lesson" for turning to violence and terror, although it is usually phrased in terms of "reestablishing Israel's strategic deterrence."

What part of "strategic deterrence" isn't clear? It's a real simple concept - you hurt me, I'll hurt you ten times worse. Unless you happen to be a suicidal maniac, that's generally enough to stop you from hurting me even if you reallyreallyreally wish you could.

Remember MAD? If the Soviet Union fired nukes, our inevitable counterstrike would destroy a goodly part of their country. If we fired nukes, their inevitable counterstrike would destroy a goodly part of our country. They knew it and we knew it, and both sides, no matter how much they disliked each other, were rational players. They didn't want to die, we didn't want to die, so no one fired nukes.

The problem for Israel is that they're not dealing with rational players. They're dealing with a society where murder/suicide is not only considered a viable option, but a desirable one. How do you fight against that? The implication in the article is that you don't, or can't, and that all the IDF is doing is trying to extract revenge - the infamous "cycle of violence".

But it's not that simple. Israel cannot simply give up and allow the murder/suicides to continue unabated. That simply is not an option and wouldn't be for any society. And yet normal forms of deterrence won't work against people who are not only willing but eager to die if they can just take a few of their enemy with them. Normal forms of deterrence don't work against irrational players. Israel can't magically turn the Palestinians into rational players, so their only option is to increase the cost of their actions to the point where even irrational players would be deterred. In the end that may not be possible, the Palestinians may have reached the point where they are so irrational nothing short of wiping out the lot of them would deter them and at this point Israel is (thankfully) not willing to do that (yet). But you have to at least try and raise the cost sufficiently to deter these bombings, the alternative - simply waiting for your next batch of dead citizens to be hauled to the morgue - is not acceptable.

For Sharon, 74, who has spent a considerable part of his adult life plotting to outfox, spite or kill Arafat, the current stalemate with the Palestinian leader is equally frustrating.

If Sharon truly wanted Arafat dead, Arafat's carbonized atoms would have been spread all over the West Bank by now. For that matter, if Israel wished to they could simply bulldoze the entire West Bank into Jordan, pour concrete over it and call it a border marker, and there wouldn't be squat the Palestinians could do to stop them. Compared to what she is capable of, Israel's response to all of this has been measured in the extreme. Certainly more measured than, say, Jordan's response was when the Palestinians became too much of a headache there.

The more Sharon tightens the noose around Arafat, the louder the international outcry -- especially in Europe and the Arab world -- insisting that Arafat is indispensable to an eventual resolution to the crisis.

The international outcry towards Israel has been so loud for so long I doubt they even hear it anymore. Israel knows very well that she can count the number of her real friends on one hand - if not one finger. How many times do the French, for instance, think that they're going to denounce "that shitty little country" and still expect Israel to listen to a thing they have to say?

Arafat is a terrorist, that's not really a point of reasonable debate. He is the head of a terrorist organization, expecting him to be part of the solution is like expecting Mike Tyson to fight fair or asking Andrea Yates to write a book on good childrearing techniques.

After hours of debate, threats and cajoling, Sharon and the moderates settled on a compromise -- to "isolate" Arafat "at this stage." It remains unclear what purpose is served by Arafat's isolation.

Oh, I dunno, at the very least if he's isolated he won't be able to write those checks to the survivors of murderous suicidal nutjobs. I'd call that a big plus.

"What are you talking about?" the prime minister snapped at Mofaz, according to the Israeli media. "There aren't going to be any diplomatic negotiations here."

That became very apparent quite some time ago.
History refresher : New 'blog added to the daily read list, Regurga-Blog. Check out his history of Israel refresher.

Sunday, March 31, 2002

From the "Things you never wondered about but I'm going to explain anyway" department : Why "It can't rain all the time..."? Well, I've never gone for dystopic stories much, but The Crow is one of my favorite movies of all time. A great story and Brandon Lee was one of the sexiest men that ever lived. Irony abounds, but if you haven't seen this movie go out and get it now - preferably the DVD on widescreen. Don't worry, I'll wait...

Okay, you've seen it now? Good, then you'll remember when Eric says to Sarah "It can't rain all the time..." (it's the title of his band's album) and the symbology isn't lost on you.

You see, as far as I can see we're about a step and a half from all out, full smackdown, fire and brimstone WWIV bigtime. Afghanistan is just the start and it's going to get worse from here. People have died and more are going to die, more than likely a lot of 'em, and any way you cut it that sucks blue iguana eggs.

It's been coming for a long while now and I don't see much of a chance it'll be avoided. It's raining, boys and girls, and there's thunder in the distance. Soon the real storm will be here. I don't see that we have any choice, the problems have gotten to be too big and must be solved - that ain't gonna happen at a negotiating table or it would have a long time ago.

But it can't rain all the time. Eventually the storm will pass and hopefully once it has the world will be better for us and for our kids.

There's hope even in the rain.

Oh I saw the decade end,
When it seemed that the world could change at the blink of an eye,
And, if anything, then there's your sign,
Of the times.

I was alive and I waited, waited,
I was alive and I waited for this,
Right here, right now,
There is no other place I'd want to be,
Right here, right now,
Watching the world wake up from history...

Jesus Jones
You're my inspiration : If you look to the right you'll see the current list of my daily "must read" 'blogs (subject to change without notice, dontchaknow). Now given that all of these fine folks have been around longer than I, are far better known than I, and are better writers than I, it might seem silly for me to comment upon them. Then again, I never let that stop me before so here goes -

And so it starts: I've been wandering around bloogerdom for a while now, dropping my words of un-wisdom here, there, and everywhere, and several people have suggested I start my own 'blog. Nah, thought I, it's not like I don't waste enough time online as it is. But then a wise man (who shall remain nameless) managed to convince me that blogging might actually save me time. Hmmm, I have my doubts but I guess we'll see.