Friday, October 16, 2009

"I don't know."

That's the answer the lawyer defending the California gay-marriage ban gave when a judge pressed him on how gay marriage threatened heterosexual marriage. This is going to be the biggest problem for proponents of banning gay marriage. There is no logical basis for it. Outlawing it rests on religious beliefs or the "ick" factor. There is no concrete proof that it harms children, raises divorce rates, or in any way has an adverse affect on society.

Gay marriage will be legalized. It's only a matter of when.

Only Mostly Dead

A scientist is working on a method of "slowing time" for people which could be used in caring for critical patients.

You see, Roth thinks he's figured out the puzzle. "While it's true we need oxygen to live, it's also a toxin," he explains. Scientists are starting to understand that death isn't caused by oxygen deprivation itself, but by a chain of damaging chemical reactions that are triggered by sharply dropping oxygen levels.

The thing is, those reactions require the presence of some oxygen. Hydrogen sulfide takes the place of oxygen, preventing those reactions from taking place. No chain reaction, no cell death. The patient lives.


After that, and after his conceptual breakthrough, Roth was ready to experiment. First up: developing fish embryos. He found a way to drain the oxygen from their cells, and they wouldn't die -- they'd just stop growing. When he put the oxygen back, they'd pick up where they left off. If he suspended them for a day, they took a day longer to develop. No more, no less. Nothing else was different.

Next up were fruit flies. This time, he gassed them. They seemed to die; they stopped moving. Then he returned them to fresh air, and the flies came back to life. New CPR beat back death for a young mom

The air we breathe is 21 percent oxygen. At 5 percent, those fish and flies -- like us -- would be dead in a few minutes. At 0.1 percent, it was another story. "You get a state of suspended animation and the creatures do not pass away, and that's the basis of what we see as an alternative way to think about critical care medicine," Roth says. "What you want to do is to have the patient's time slowed down, while everyone around them [like doctors] move at what we would call real time."

If the patient's time -- the process of your death -- were slowed down, doctors would have more time to fix you. In medicine, time is key. An analogy is the history of open heart surgery. For years, surgeons had the technical tools to make simple repairs on the heart, but they couldn't help patients until the development of the heart-lung machine made it possible to preserve the body for more than a few minutes without a heartbeat.

This is an incredible time to be alive.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Obama's Nobel Prize

I've thought a lot about what I think about Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize and I wasn't sure exactly what to think. I do think, though, that Ezra Klein probably best sums up how I feel.

I had a good time making fun of Barack Obama's Nobel prize this morning. It is undeserved. It is a bit ridiculous. But it's a laugh in the way that finding a $900 antique chair in the attic is a laugh, or getting paid $120,000 to be a celebrity dog walker is a laugh. It's an absurdity worth celebrating. It's an absurdity that can help you.

During the campaign, one of the arguments for Obama's candidacy was that his election would give us a costless shot of international goodwill. That the symbolism of his election would aid America's international standing without forcing any substantive policy concessions. At the time, that was a very big deal: Leaders were winning elections in other countries in no small part by tying incumbents to George W. Bush. That made it a lot harder for our allies to loudly support our initiatives. Fixing that was not going to be easy. Candidates and countries pay a lot of money to better their public image. Obama, some said, could do some of it on the cheap.
This prize, which came as Obama contemplates a troop build-up in Afghanistan and hectors the international community on financial regulation and global warming, suggests that there is some reservoir of relief and amazement for America's young president. The international gushing may seem absurd to us, as the schoolyard lionization of an older brother often seems funny to a sibling, but it can be used to our advantage. Leaders in allied countries no longer run against America, and now the Nobel Committee is attempting to welcome America back as the leader of the free world. And it didn't cost us anything. Would that life told more jokes like that one.

Last Words

I don't believe in the death penalty. Even if we were able to be 100% certain that the person was guilty, I would still find it barbaric. Killing someone is not justice; it's vengeance. Maybe that's why I found a recent NYT article rather poignant. It has a list of the last words spoken by some of the people executed in the state of Texas. Here are some.

Death row is full of isolated hearts and suppressed minds.

Mistakes are made, but with God all things are possible.

I am responsible for them losing their mother, their father and their grandmother. I never meant for them to be taken. I am sorry for what I did.

I can’t take it back.

Lord Jesus forgive of my sins. Please forgive me for the sins that I can remember.

All my life I have been locked up.

Give me my rights. Give me my rights. Give me my rights. Give me my life back.

I am tired.

I deserve this.

A life for a life.

It’s my hour. It’s my hour.

I’m ready, Warden.

Now, to be clear, I am not feeling sorry for these people (unless they were innocent). But I do pity them and I do think that this is wrong, no matter how heinous of a crime they may have committed. How can killing someone in cold blood ever be considered an acceptable course of action? Don't we teach our children that two wrongs don't make a right? That we should not sink to the level of those who perpetrate wrongs against us?