May 02, 2019

TX Progressives take a look at the
TX Legislature, GOPers for Prez and more


The Texas Progressive Alliance supports an impeachment of President Trump on real grounds, like the Emoluments Clause, while encouraging both national Democrats and Beltway stenos to drop the worst of their Russiagate mindsets. Meanwhile, here’s this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff celebrated the settlement agreement in the lawsuits over that bogus SOS advisory.

With Bill Weld now officially in, SocraticGadfly offers his first take on the 2020 GOP presidential race.

Brains discusses the 2020 Senate race

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs and news sites.

Texas' anti-BDS ban with oath, for state contractors, ruled unconstitutional by federal judge. 

A.H. Belo invester-shareholder says company should take newspaper half private, questions decision to expand digital marketing in areas where it has no expertise.

Will Joaquin Castro's friends and allies be more or less baffled now that he is officially done playing Hamlet and instead chickened out on running for the Dem nomination to face Big John Cornyn? (Winners are both M.J. Hegar and Sema Hernandez, Hegar because she won't have to face an experienced politician and Hernandez because there likely won't be a second Hispanic in the primary. Just saying.)

Texas Observer talks more about the sales tax for property tax swap, while still failing to mention Legiscritter Drew Springer, the stealth actor behind this.

Ed Espinoza calls us to action to stop SB9, the latest anti-voting effort from Dan Patrick and the Republicans.

Abbie-Louise Lord and Jenn Char document their efforts to give up single-use plastic for Lent.

Jef Rouner argues that you cannot be "pro-life" if you are anti-vaccine.

Daniel Williams presents his research on how conflicts inn policy positions between special interests may be analyzed.

Sanford Nowlin reports on the effort to push bail reform in Bexar County

Juanita checks in on our old pal Rick Perry.

The Texas Trib has an update on the status of the Dallas-Houston bullet train. 

Stephen Young reports that AG Kenny Boy Paxton, or his office, DID communicate by email with his state senatecritter wife before she filed a bill to gut state securities law. 

Jim Schutze talks about how the city of Dallas’ plan for a Trinity River mud run, er city park, have hit snafus.

My former state house legiscritter Dan Flynn, for the first time since he proposed it many sessions ago, got his Ten Commandments in schools bill out of committee. In case you don't know, Flynn is a loon about fake Sharia law claims anywhere while being a loon of another sort, against the Constitution, for anything Christian.

May 01, 2019

"Happy" May Day

Happy May Day in a country that refuses to celebrate it, even though the idea of May Day, not a defanged Labor Day, arose in America, as international organized labor celebrated the Haymarket Resistance with International Labor Day on the old May Day.

Happy May Day in a country that has no real, at least strong, national party of labor and hasn't for decades.

Happy May Day in a country where the more "left" of the two national parties has most national leadership opposing single-payer national health care, either directly or by stealth euphemism.

Happy May Day where that party follows the Overton Window and refuses to admit the reality of economic classes existing in the US, and generally being more firmly ensconced than in old Europe.

Happy May Day where the history of that first paragraph gets eliminated from school history textbooks.

April 29, 2019

Accepting aging, accepting death

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live LongerNatural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's plenty of punch in this slim volume, and it goes beyond what most reviews note. And, for this blog post, I have further expanded my original Goodreads review.

That alone, what is in the reviews, is notable enough. Doctors overexamine most Americans, whether out of profit motives, an overdoing of precautionary principles, the idea of doctor as superman or some combination of all of the above. For two biggies specific to men and women, Ehrenreich references mammograms for women and PSA tests for men. Colon cancer testing, she says, is probably also overdone.

And, then, she dives into issues related to this and beyond. First, our mix of individual genes, the fact that many cancers are hugely multigenic in nature beyond environmental factors and other things, means that outside of things like BRCA, a lot of genetic findings are probabilities, no more, and probabilities not much different from random chance.

So, most such tests aren't worth a whole lot. If they do find anything, "watchful waiting" is much better in most cases than surgical, radiative or chemotherapeutical undertakings. But, a doctor may not tell you that. For one or more of those three reasons above, or others.

Then we get to the real fun.

Your own body may exacerbate many cancers.

Ehrenreich looks at how macrophages can be "bad guys" as well as "good gals." They can "encourage" cancer cells in the area of tumors to continue reproducing rather than killing them. They supply cancer cells with chemical growth factors. They build new blood vessels for them. They help them enter blood vessels they couldn't on their own. This all is best documented with breast cancer, but also shown with lung, bone, gastric and other cancers, she says.

In addition, the spread of arthritis and other inflammation-generated diseases, are also assisted by macrophages.

So, from this, riffing on her previous book "Bright-Sided," Ehrenreich says New Agey ideas of visualizing your body, or "your body," attacking cancer is nonsense. The "your body" goes in scare quotes, because she also documents other ways in which macrophages can be free agents of sorts. She goes back to Russian zoologist Elie Metchenikoff, who first talked about this a century and more ago, but was roundly rejected. Now, his ideas are gaining acceptance. Some other immunological cells have lesser, but not insignificant, degrees of free agency, Ehrenreich says.

We're still not done, though.

Next comes philosophy.

If these cells have that much independence, what does this mean for the idea of a unitary "self"? And, if they're not conscious, but seem to have some independence, what word do we use for that?

Ehrenreich starts by referencing Jessica Riskin and her book "The Restless Clock." Riskin talks about "agency" as a purpose-based set of actions that is below the mental level (if we can even talk about mental levels of a single cell) of consciousness. Ehrenreich notes that we as a species are believed to have evolved highly sensitive agency detectors, but says that dismissing the idea of agency, especially non-conscious agency, from the non-human natural world altogether is a mistake. She says it's a greedy-reductionist view of biology, wanting to cut down to genes, not cells, and base biology on chemistry.

And, we're still not done.

Ehrenreich, paralleling somewhat Irvin Yalom, written up in The Atlantic two years ago about "How to Die," talks about "successful aging" next. That means accepting that aging will happen. Accepting that many blows of aging cannot be fully dodged, not even by rich anti-aging gurus. Accepting and embracing that aging has positive sides. With that, people can stop wasting money on gimmicks and brainwaves on stressing out. They can accept that aging is a normal evolutionary process, too. And, those macrophages that are quasi-free agents, along with other parts of "our" immune system? Just maybe their biggest job is to help kickstart the process of decomposition when each of us dies. (For insightful quotes from Yalom, go here.)

From here, back to philosophy.

Ehrenreich talks about the invention of the "self." In Europe, she says it probably started with the Renaissance and the rise of humanism, then took off in the Enlightenment. Rousseau, of course, majorly boosted the idea.

From there, we've gotten to the modern bombardment with selfhood, "branding" oneself on social media, selfie sticks for smartphone photos and more. (Ehrenreich politely doesn't call a lot of this "dreck," which it is.)

And, thus, it is harder for a modern Westerner, at least in the US, vaguely religious or "spiritual but not religious," to memento mori than it was a medieval Christian who was regularly reminded of that idea at Mass.

Ehrenreich's conclusion? Kill the self, or at least diminish the attachment to it. She mentions psychadelic drugs; on the other hand, many modern Americans who talk about using them seem to look at attaching more to a "self" afterward than before. But, there's potential there, along with long, distracted walks in nature and other things.

Don't rage against the dying of the light; accept that you don't control the sunset or the light switch.

Ehrenreich also refers to the perennial existential insight that while none of us can truly conceive of a world going on its merry way of existence after we're gone, at the same time, none of us can conceive of the world that was merrily going on before we were born, reincarnation claims aside.

But, the problem is ... we as individuals have existed. So, death, or post-death, anxiety hits us in a way that pre-birth trembling doesn't.

One thing that Ehrenreich does not really dive into is the differentiation between fear of death, which is largely existential in nature, and the fear of dying, or of specific types of dying, which is largely empirical in nature. Many of us have had a relative or friend of some sort, if not a loved one, die from some gruesome cancer or something else horrible.

But, with her notes on ixnaying overdone medical testing, Ehrenreich does, however, bring in an existential angle to fears of dying, too. Stop overdoing them.

This is in total contrast to Diane Ackerman, who in the disappointing "The Human Age," seems to want to "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

The Human Age: The World Shaped By UsThe Human Age: The World Shaped By Us by Diane Ackerman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A disappointing book

Ackerman is fairly good, though nothing extraordinary, until about three-fifths in, then she kind of loses it. I'm culling the full review to what is relevant related to Ehrenreich's book. ...

First, feeling love for a Ray Kurzweil prediction is always a way to start losing me. (Specifically, Ackerman likes his Singularity and related ideas.) ...

After that, she assumes we will get used to living inside a digital bubble. Salvific technologists generally make such assumptions. And there’s no guarantee they’ll be true. At least not if she means “adapt well” rather than “adapt haltingly and very imperfectly.”

And, I’ll definitely pass on a borg-based Internet. Ackerman wrote before the worst of Facebook (so far) arose, but even half a dozen years ago, one could have had some sort of guess, just from Shrub Bush, then Dear Leader, spying on people via the NSA, that a Borg-based Net is a horrible idea. (It's also why supporters of the paranormal existing, especially those who want it to exist, should rethink how wonderful telepathy and related ideas might or might not be.) ...

Also, while Ackerman can wax poetic in her language, she can also wax inaccurate. Having a screw in a bone to help fix a break is NOT “bionic.” If she didn’t watch “Six Million Dollar Man,” Merriam Webster will straighten her out.

Finally (and not the first time I’ve complained about a blurb/PR authorial photo for a book … it’s vaguely offputting to see one that’s at least 15 years old as of the time the book was written. I just have this vague feeling that she’s almost a polar opposite of Ehrenreich on aging and dying issues. The photo, the yearning for Kurzweilian ideas, and other things all just seem to point to that.

View all my reviews