Wednesday, October 29, 2008

mccain-palin, part two

Well, I know you're all expecting some news about my trip out to Cally ... but the election's less than a week away! And somehow, I neglected to get past Part 1 of my running series on the McCain-Palin ticket until now. I know there's still some undecided voters out there, especially in my blogosphere, so here goes:

John McCain. What can I possibly say about him, that hasn't already been said? Well, how about this: remember the 2004 race? And how, at one point, there was talk that John Kerry had approached McCain to be his running mate on the Democrat ticket? I would have been all right with that. I think it would've worked, both in the election and in the Oval Office. I respected McCain then, even if I didn't agree with some of his political views. And I still respect what he went through in Vietnam, and the valor he showed. But there's nothing like winning the Republican nomination, and kissing right-wing ass, to bring out someone's ugly side. And I know less about McCain's views than about how pissed off he is about Obama's views. What kind of a campaign is that?

How about this for a scenario? McCain wins the election. Here's what his (few remaining) supporters will be saying in 2010: "Well, the war's still going, and the economy still sucks, and the rest of the world hates us more than ever. But isn't it inspiring what he did 45 years ago in Vietnam?"

And Palin? I really don't think I can add anything there, and I wouldn't even know how to begin recapping what others have said. Wait, I've got an idea: how about her participation in a religious movement that believes that demonic forces have taken over parts of the country? I am not making this up. If that isn't enough to scare the bejeebers out of you, then what is?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

on vacation

Speaking of energized colons, I'm heading out to San Francisco tomorrow for a quick visit. (Hey people! Hey now! Settle down! I am straight, but totally not narrow. C'mon! Hey now!) Anyways, I'm planning to see my friends Som and Leah and also my friends Dean and Caroline. And catch some rays! According to Yahoo! Weather, it's supposed to get up around 80 every day I'm out there. Meanwhile, it's been in the high 30's here this week when I've been biking to work in the a.m.

So my blogging may taper off for the next few days. Just relax - we'll all get through this OK ...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Maureen Dowd ...

... looks so much like my friend Brian's sister Christine! Ohmigod! We're talking "separated at birth" similar! This is freak-ay!

And don't take that the wrong way, Christine. I totally respect Maureen Dowd! She writes a great column! It's not like I'm comparing you to Ann Coulter or anything.


People, can you believe they're still making corn-on-the-cob here in Mad City? I just got some at our awesome farmers' market the other day. I go to the farmers' market every Saturday, wondering if this will be "the" weekend when I will find no corn. But it's still going on. I think there were only two booths this weekend that still had corn. But all it takes is one, baby! All it takes is one.

To be honest, all this corn-shopping has been a bit of a drag at times, since I can't really do any out-of-town Saturday trips and miss the market until I'm sure that corn season is over. But on the plus side, my colon has been totally energized since, like, late July. If any of you had come out to Mad City this summer, you probably would have noticed the extra spring in my step ...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

other things that annoy me

These two fucking guys! I cannot stand them! What were the people at ABC thinking? "Hmmm ... why don't we see how many smug bastards we can fit on one show?"
And I swear to you, I don't even watch "Grey's Anatomy." I was at the gym yesterday, and it was on one of the TV's while I was doing the elliptical. So much overacting ... so very much like a night-time soap-opera ...
Sorry ladies! I know there's a bunch of you McDreamy fans out there. I am not one of them. If I want to see a bunch of posturing, I'll just go to the free weight room and watch some of the frat brothers in action.

cancer part 3

So why do people get cancer? That question sometimes comes up, in various permutations, at work. Or more often, patients attribute their cancer to something that an oncologist would not consider a likely cause. Like a middle-aged man with metastatic prostate cancer, who blames it on his summer job at a refinery back during college. Not likely.

If you surveyed the general public, I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of people considered pollution, or chemicals, or other man-made factors in our environment, to be the leading cause of cancer. And there may be some truth to that. For instance, the biggest environmental cause of cancer is probably cigarette smoke, which contributes not only to lung cancer but also bladder cancer (those chemicals have to go out somewhere), head and neck carcinoma, and a number of other malignancies. And yet, of people who smoke at least a pack a day - which is a lot more pollution than you'd get from your carpet cleaner, say, or sitting too close to the copy machine at work - less than 1 in 10 will get lung cancer.

The best description of cancer I've heard is that it's a "disease of the DNA." And when you consider the trillions of cells in our body, and the complexity of DNA and cell division, it's kind of a wonder that more people don't develop cancer more often. All it takes is one cell gone wrong, dividing uncontrollably, to start the ball rolling. And in fact, that's basically what cancer is: it almost invariably starts with just one bad cell.

So, tobacco smoke can damage DNA. So can radiation. And viruses can cause mutations that lead to cancer: most cases of cervical cancer are due to HPV, and the mononucleosis virus can contribute to some types of lymphoma, and chronic hepatitis B or C sometimes results in liver cancer. And definitely, there are other carcinogens out there, both man-made and natural. Sunlight, even, when consumed immoderately.

But mostly, I think of it this way: we live by our cells, and sometimes they go wrong on us. It's part of the price we pay for physiological sophistication developed over eons, as we evolved from simple one-celled things to fantastically complex organisms with eyeballs and emotions and innards (if you believe in that evolution stuff). Sometimes we can blame cigarettes, or faulty genes that have been passed through generations, or other factors. Aging! If a man lives to be 100, he is virtually guaranteed of developing prostate cancer. But the reality is that we can live our lives in the healthiest way conceivable, and certainly minimize our risks, but never eliminate it. Not while we're still dependent on cells ...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

a simple man

I got to thinking recently about old friends from various phases of my life, and how people change over time, and so forth. And I realized something which has kind of occurred to me before, every so often, but never so vividly as now: I am nothing if not a simple man. Most of my peers have houses, and spouses, and kids, and mortgages, and other fairly grown-up elements in their lives. Careers. Lots of keys, for different stuff out in the garage. Snowblowers, and swing sets, and health club memberships, and time-shares. Bum knees. Food processors. Equity.

As for me ... well, I'm still in training mode for my job. I rent an apartment in Mad City, on the second floor of a house not too far from Willy Street. It's not quite living in a van down by the river; but I do live near a river (the mighty Yahara), in the Land of Cheese, and I just upgraded my 20-year-old car to a 10-year-old car. Never owned a house, and probably won't buy one anytime soon. I'm not fluent in any foreign languages. I like having my belly rubbed after a big meal. I tend to judge people by their physical flaws and the pitch of their voices, rather than the content of their character. I still enjoy a good creamee every now and then (favorite flavor: twist.) I can't write songs unless they're about movies, and I blog without a cause.

For whatever reason, age and education seem to have had little effect on my general sensibilities. Back in college, my friend Chud was widely considered to be the simplest of us all. But he has since attained a level of maturity and sophistication which I can only marvel at. And why is that? It's simple: I'm a simple man.

I state this not with pride, nor with great regret. I do acknowledge that we've had another simple man running this country for nearly 8 years now, and obviously he's mucked it up real good. Unlike him, I know my limits, and I also think there are many good simple men and women out there. We're too simple to form any sort of cohesive organization or society, but we do nod and smile warmly at each other when we pass on the street.

But I'm also troubled now by the thought that maybe simple really is as simple does. Should I start buying things? Read more challenging books? Or hit the bottle, hard, for a couple months? At least long enough to know what discontent and sloppy self-pity really mean? (Not that this is about self-pity. I'm really not into that. But it does have an exotic appeal at times.)

I'm not really sure what brought this all on for me, but I think it was multi-factorial. I turned 40 a few months ago, and within a year I'll complete my medical training and start practicing without supervision, and they switched the guy who plays James Bond a little while back, and some other miscellaneous stuff. Who can say for sure? But let me assure you of one thing: I take good care of my patients. And also, despite the simpleness, my views on politics and produce are spot-on.

Actually, that's more than one thing. Maybe nothing is as simple as it seems ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

cancer part two

I had been planning to write a little piece about what causes cancer, for the next segment in my cancer series. But a few days ago, I was going through my back-up email account and opened up an overlooked message from an old college friend, and found out that one of my closest friends from college has been diagnosed with Stage IV (i.e. metastatic) colon cancer. By the time I read the message, he'd already made it through surgery and had started chemotherapy.

So, let me tell you a little about this friend instead. I think Jed is one of the most ferociously intelligent people I've ever met, and that includes most if not all of the doctors I've come across. I remember a class we both took during junior year on European literature, which involved reading a lot of the great "canon" works (The Odyssey, The Iliad, sections from the Bible, Greek plays, The Divine Comedy, etc.) and writing weekly 3-page papers. Occasionally I'd share my ideas for a paper with Jed; typically, he'd grimace and try to straighten me out. I would argue with him, then submit the paper with all my original ideas. Inevitably, I'd get a B or B- with comments from the professor that mostly echoed what Jed had told me. That went on for the whole semester. (What can I say? I was stubborn.)

And yet, Jed was also one of the most down-to-earth people on campus. He was intensely proud of hailing from Vermont, he almost invariably wore jeans and a baseball cap, and he drove around in an old Chevette with vanity plates ("Jed 2"). It was impossible to dislike him, or to not be impressed by his intelligence. He lived down the hall from me during freshman year, straight across from my friends Chud and Austin. One of my best memories of college: Jed and his roommate Giff (also a good friend), and Chud and Austin, screaming "Fuck you!" back and forth across the hall at each other for 10 minutes straight, laughing the whole time. (Trust me - he really is an incredibly bright guy ...)

Jed and Giff and I also lived in the same dorm during senior year, and I saw Jed several times during the first few years after graduation, including once when he came over to my hometown and stayed with my family. My parents kept bringing him up and asking about him for months afterward. He just made an impression on people.

And he probably still is. I haven't talked to Jed in at least 10 years, probably more like 15. He graduated with top honors, went to grad school (in Madison!), became a professor of literature, got married, has two girls. Unbeknownst to me, he'd also gotten a faculty position at a top liberal arts school in the Midwest, and written several books on literary criticism.

I just checked on Google maps: about a 7-hour drive from Mad City. Maybe in the spring? I'll let him get through his chemotherapy first.

And as for his illness: while we generally consider solid tumors incurable once they've metastasized, that's not exactly true. Some people with what's called oligometastatic disease, or limited mets, can potentially be cured with surgical resection of their primary tumor and metastases. It's not very common, and at present is pretty much limited to colon cancer with liver mets. Which I believe is Jed's situation.

And as for a 40-ish guy getting diagnosed with colon cancer: Jed is actually the third person I know from school who's been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The others were a high-school classmate and the wife of one of my friends from med school (who was diagnosed in her early 30's). They were both treated and are doing fine now. I just have to believe, and I do, that the same will hold true for Jed.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

fleet foxes

Tonight was a special night, and it didn't even happen in Mad City. I headed 75 miles east to Brew City, aka Milwaukee, to see Fleet Foxes at the Pabst Theater. If you don't know about Fleet Foxes, you should learn somehow, because I might not be able to describe them properly. Wait - I've got it. You know that song "Greensleeves?" Well, if there was a band that played songs like "Greensleeves," but updated for the 21st-century alt/progressive scene, that would be this band. Does that make sense?

I might have never learned about FF if I hadn't been back out to Seattle in August, and stayed a few days with my old roommate Brian. He'd just gotten their CD (on loan from the library! the cheap wanker ...), and I was won over right away. Actually, I probably would have learned about them eventually, because they're generating tremendous buzz now. Probably even past the buzz stage, since they're now selling out most of their shows. But I might not have learned in time for tonight's show.

Anyhow, what a show. The Pabst was jammed, the mood was right, the sound was great. When you take their soaring vocal harmonies, and add in those lyrics about forests and shrubberies, and then that medieval drum-playing comes in - pa rup a pum pum, pa rup a pum pum - well ... it's kind of thrilling. Honestly, that's the best descriptor I can come up with. And they're funny guys! The between-song chatter was really pretty good. And lead singer Robin Pecknold played an impromptu solo version of Bob Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather," at the request of someone from the audience, which was cool.

And as I was driving home, I got to hear a re-broadcast of the show on the radio, which was also cool. (Thank you 88.9 FM in Milwaukee, Community-Supported Radio!) And when you throw in the fact that Fleet Foxes are from Seattle, and that I was such a big influence on them before I left town, it's just icing on the cake. Come back to Wisconsin soon, homies ...

Friday, October 10, 2008

civic duties

I'm also into recycling. Big time. Forgot to mention that yesterday. Hey Joe Sixpack! Make sure you put those empties in the proper recycling bin when you're done with them! Or else I know a crazy Alaskan she-devil who'll put a beatdown on your ass like you wouldn't believe.
Actually, now that I think about it, I suspect she doesn't care a whole lot about recycling ...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

double clicking

I thought I had expelled my venom for the week, like a spitting cobra, after my nectarine jeremiad. But a chance event the other day reminded me that there's still so much injustice in the world which needs to be combated head-on. Here's what happened: I was waiting for the elevator at the hospital where I work (MJC Hospital). Like many hospitals, this one's all spread out, and there's a set of elevators serving each wing. Two sets, actually. So, like 4 elevators total. And there's a separate set of buttons for each pair of elevators.

So, as I'm waiting there, some dude comes along and starts to wait too. And after a few seconds, he goes and pushes the "up" button for the other elevators as well. A double clicker! Man, that gets my goat. You see, I actually think elevators are an amazing convenience. And we should be grateful to have these contraptions that whisk us up buildings in the blink of an eye (more or less), sparing us the work and drudgery of climbing the stairs. And we should be willing to wait a little while for one of these contraptions to come along, just like we've gotta wait a couple minutes for the microwave to get our Hot Pocket ready. And we should be aware that these things use energy to get us where we need to go. Not just energy to carry us up (which some people think about), but also the energy for the empty elevator to come down and get us. And when we double-click, we're basically consuming twice the energy.

And for what??? To save a few measly seconds? Can't we find something productive to do with those spare moments, like re-tying our shoes or finding inner peace? Can't we all get along?

Hey double-clickers! Do you hear that sound? It's the sound of the OPEC oil ministers rubbing their hands in glee, every time you push that other button! Cha-ching for them! It's the sound of more coal being strip-mined out of some bucolic West Virginia hillside, to meet our rapacious demand for elevator fuel! It's the sound of another nuclear reactor edging closer to meltdown, as the engineers throw it into overdrive! It's the sound ... of Mother Nature crying.

And in case you were wondering: yes, I do take the stairs sometimes. Say, if I'm going down. Or if I only need to go up one or two floors. But my office is way the hell up on the 5th floor! You've gotta draw the line somewhere ...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

fruity impostors

Before the last vestiges of summer leave us and the chill of winter sets in, I wanted to pose a question: what is up with nectarines? Where'd these things come from? They're obviously related to the peach somehow, but I'm confident that the peach predates the nectarine. So what is it: a cross between a peach and a plum? And why??? Was there some mad scientist out there thinking to himself, "Hmm. How can I make something similar to a peach, but less juicy and delicious?"

I mean, what's the benefit here? Why have nectarines been allowed to continue to exist? They're an experiment gone wrong. If you gave 100 people the choice between a peach and a nectarine, how many would choose the nectarine? I'm guessing it would be like 0.05 percent. Here's the only purpose I can think of that nectarines serve: to confuse people. As in, you're in the supermarket, or at the fruit stand, and you see some small, round, red-and-yellow fruit across the way. And you think to yourself, "Ah, peaches!" And you smile, and go to get some. But once you get close ... BAM! Nectarines!

It's the classic bait-and-switch. Some of you have heard me rant about raisins before, and how easy it is to mistake them for chocolate chips when they're in cookies. Well, same principle here. But I've got a word for you, nectarines: you may sit near peaches in the produce section ... but you're no peaches. You don't taste as good, you don't smell as good, and the "nectar" in your name is nothing but bitter irony.

Fuck you, nectarines! Go grow some fuzz, you damn d-bags ...

que cera, cera

So I went to see Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist tonight, mainly because I haven't been to the movies in a while and just felt like going. Unfortunately, there's not much good out right now. We're in the doldrums. I did want to see Pineapple Express, which is a pre-doldrums movie I haven't seen yet and which is still playing at the Orpheum here in the MJC. But the showtime was too early.

As for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist ... sadly, I cannot recommend this movie. It was just too full of improbable situations and stultifying characters. It really wanted to be one of those "look at all this wild stuff that happens in one night!" kind of movies, but it was no Superbad or Sixteen Candles. But, it did have Michael Cera, which is what finally led me to see Nick and Norah over Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I like Michael Cera; the kid's got chops. But then, I knew that way back when he was playing George-Michael Bluth on "Arrested Development." And he was great in Superbad and Juno. He actually reminds me of a young me, kind of like George Clooney reminds me of the current me. I guess it's the combination of naivete and scrawniness. If you could see my high school yearbook, you would understand ...

You go, Michael Cera! Keep on making movies! I will continue to see them. But if they try to get you to do a Nick and Norah sequel, just walk away. Walk. Slowly. Away.

Friday, October 3, 2008


A few weeks ago, I encouraged you people to sign up for the National Bone Marrow Registry. And tonight, I thought I would tell you about my own saga in getting enrolled on the registry. You see, I figured I'd be tricky and sign up in person while I was out in Seattle in August. I guess not too many people do it that way, because they were a little flummoxed at the Puget Sound Blood Center facility where I showed up. But eventually, they got it figured out, and swabbed my mouth (totally painless! trust me), and sent me on my way. Before I left, I whipped out my wallet to pay the $52 registration fee, but I guess they don't even have a cash register or money bag there or anything. So they said I'd get billed later.

Fast forward to this week: a letter from PSBC arrives. The good news: I only have to pay $25 to register. The bad news: they haven't put my DNA on the freakin' registry yet. You see, one of the main reasons why I wanted to join the registry was to see if I could be a stem cell donor for Steve Rider, my friend Cindy's brother. Because he's a good guy. I've only spent time with Steve on a few limited occasions, but he's basically a very friendly and likeable person; and knowing that he needs something, you want to help him out.

I knew it would be a long shot to be Steve's stem cell donor. I mean, nobody from his own family was an HLA match! It's not like being a blood donor: it's not just A, or B, or O. It's like the whole rest of the alphabet is involved. But Steve and I have a few things in common: we both like Seattle, and ride automated two-wheeled vehicles, and enjoy a good cup of joe in the morning, and ... I'm sure there's some other stuff, too. Though I also have to admit, I think Steve is a little smarter than me, and definitely more tech-savvy, and I could definitely never pull off wearing a jaunty plaid cap the way he does. But with the stuff we have in common, I figured we'd be at least a 7/10 match, maybe even 8/10, with mismatches at a few minor and relatively unimportant loci.

But all this time I thought my HLA testing was being done, my saliva was just sitting in an envelope somewhere. And meanwhile, it looks like Steve will need a transplant pretty soon. And even if they expedite my testing (which PSBC promised they would do when I called today), they've already found a donor for Steve. A woman, no less! Which makes me feel a little funny. All I can think about now is how those dainty little stem cells will be settling in there, getting comfortable, redecorating Steve's marrow and whatnot. Probably installing some frilly lace curtains, and putting a ton of unnecessary, superfluous pillows on all the beds. Feh.

So, I want you people to help me. You people out in Seattle: keep an eye on Steve. Make sure he doesn't get ... soft after the transplant. Bring him guy things to enjoy while he's in the hospital. Give him a friendly punch in the arm, once he's engrafted and has enough platelets. And Steve, the next time I'm in Seattle, let's go watch some football at a sports bar somewhere. We can pound some brewskis (out of cans, not bottles), and eat wings, and do some arm-wrestling during the commercials, and maybe later watch a Larry the Cable Guy DVD.

Everyone else: sign up for the marrow registry. And if you're a lady, and you're pregnant, donate the cord blood for chrissake! (What were you planning on doing with that placenta, anyways? Burying it out in the garden? C'mon!) You may not be able to donate to Steve - they're gonna wind up matching me to some axe murderer or Republican fundraiser, I can almost guarantee it - but maybe someone else, down the road? And check out his blog. It's a good read, with cool photos, and you'll learn a lot about his transplant experience.

(Seriously, Steve, all your future white blood cells are going to have two X chromosomes! Do you really want to put up with that kind of shit? If nothing else, you can totally have some of my white blood cells if you'd like. Lymphocytes, granulocytes, natural-killer cells, whatever. Take your pick. Guess it's a good thing that red blood cells and platelets don't have nuclei ...)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

the green tea ceremony

We live in stressful times. Would any of you people out there deny that? And we need ways to cope with that stress. My usual coping mechanisms - crocheting, writing gangsta rap lyrics, petting the puppy, growing orchids, spelunking, mime - are fine, but lately I've felt like I needed a little something extra. You know, something to put me over the top.

So that got me to thinking about the green tea ceremony. You know, it's fascinating, the myriad ways that people in Japan and China have come up with over the millenia to relax and de-stress. There's tea ceremonies, and tai chi, and origami. Also: Noh theater, haiku, calligraphy, ikebana, Godzilla movies, and selecting prepubescent girls for the national gymnastics team. Maybe that's why people in this region have the highest life expectancy in the world? I don't know.

But anyhow, of all the above, the Japanese green tea ceremony resonates the most with me. If you've never witnessed it, in real life or on TV, it's a highly ritualized and formal event that takes years of practice to master. You'd think making and drinking some tea wouldn't take too long, but these ceremonies can actually go on for hours. Every step, every gesture, is done with precision and grace. If you're good at it ... well, it must be hard to remain humble. And yet I've never seen a cocky tea master! And I know that the tea ceremony is traditionally performed by women. I'm OK with that; I'm secure in my masculinity. I just need something to help get rid of stress. Damn ...

So I've been working on this. I've been doing more leg exercises at the gym, to strengthen my squatting muscles. I've gotten a kimono and all the necessary equipment, including a chashaku (ritual tea scoop), chabako (wooden box for holding utensils), and some tatami mats for the floor. I've located a local tea house with a sympathetic manager, to hold the actual ceremony. There's only one problem: I don't really like green tea! Not the preparation, obviously. Just the taste of it. And to abstain from the whole ceremony just because of that one detail ... well, it'd be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

So, I was wondering if anyone out there knows if you can do the tea ceremony with iced tea. I love iced tea.

teeth 'n' tapas

I like tapas. I wish they had a tapas place here in the MJC. A little something with calamari: that'd be totally delicious.
My teeth are doing OK. I had some pizza earlier today, no problems. It's more my gums that are an issue. They're receding a bit. But I saw a dentist for a routine check-up a few months back, and he said not to worry about it too much ...