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I Troll In Peace

Posted by Ogged
on 12.21.13

So, the Justine Sacco tweet. Now look, I'm not going to defend her judgment, and I'm not saying the reaction isn't justified, given the need to police the discourse. But I (privately) make this kind of joke all the time, and form is something like this: appear to inhabit a loathsome position in such a way that it's clear to your interlocutor that you're mocking it. Surely most of you do this, too. The trouble is, there are about three people in the world who know me well enough and I know well enough that we can both feel comfortable that neither is being sincere. I sure as hell wouldn't tweet it to the world. In conclusion, my friends: Justine Sacco: really stepped in it, but might not (but might!) be a big ol' racist. (Although I would allow that perhaps this kind of provincialism, or obliviousness, is itself a form of racism; maybe not personal racism, but structural racism expressing itself through a human being, kind of like how the Holy Spirit works).


 

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Also: kinda resembles a turtle.

Posted by Stanley
on 12.20.13

As you may have heard, on Wednesday Mark Obenshain conceded the race for Virginia's attorney general, ending the ongoing recount and handing victory to Mark Herring. Let's all take a moment to say goodbye to Mark Obenshain, in all his super-awkward glory:


 

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Guest Post - 23andMe

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.20.13

Ydnew writes: Here's a story about 23andMe, who seem to be having unusual FDA problems. It's been going on for a while, but perhaps your reserve of topic is low enough that this would be interesting.

I'm sure most people know about 23andMe, who provide DNA sequencing directly to consumers (called personal genome sequencing). Until last week, they supplied reports of alleles correlated with known phenotypes (for example, they test for ApoE mutations, which are correlated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease). They also report likely ancestry, e.g. 20% Pacific Islander markers.

Accuracy and reproducibility of tests like this are normally regulated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) through the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). However, the FDA is arguing that because the tests not only sequence DNA but also provide medically relevant results, they should be regulated as a high-risk medical device. The FDA would require 23andMe to prove correlation of a given allele to a disease (similar to the BRCA mutations) or other clinical relevance or for 23andMe to change the way they present reports. The reports did previously contain a standard disclaimer, but the FDA seems to have wanted a stronger protection. 23andMe had apparently ignored the FDA's communications (this has been brewing for about six months), but has now stopped selling the test as "personal genome sequencing" but is still doing "ancestry testing." This is basically uncharted regulatory area, and the decision here will probably have a pretty big effect on personal genome sequencing.

Washington Post summary (I think they don't quite have the detail right in that the accuracy of the sequencing doesn't seem to be in question; it's the link to phenotype).

Frankly, I'm torn on this, since 23andMe is amassing a huge database of privately held genetic data, which is an incredibly powerful resource. I think the reports are probably kind of sketchy in the sense that genetic testing performed by genetic counselors often will give a patient much more comprehensive information and (in cases of serious findings like Huntington's or a dominant early-onset Alzheimer's disease) referrals for extra services to cope with the eventuality of a fatal and debilitating disease. On the other hand, I think their correlation/risk data is culled from publicly available scientific literature, which means that their reports are stuff that's sort of available anyway, just compiled into a nice report that would be nearly impossible for a non-expert to assemble.

Heebie's take: I find it confusing that they should be regulated as a high-risk medical device. Why isn't HIV testing a useful precedent here?

My dad and two friends have done 23andMe. I learned that one of my friends has a really poor understanding of genetics. Also they did not do the BRCA test, my dad noted, so I suppose they're staying clear of the Myriad Genetics court thing altogether.


 

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Hey, this isn't half bad

Posted by Ben
on 12.19.13

Well, I'm posting this a mere 20 minutes in, so it's possible that when it switches from a solo set to a duo, the quality will decline, but it seems unlikely.


 

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ATM: More food than the blog wants

Posted by Tia
on 12.19.13

I wrote a long story, now in its third draft. It's science fiction. Feedback from a couple readers makes me believe I no longer need major revisions and am in the "refinement" stage. What would be so useful right now is a detailed, thorough line-edit. This is a lot to ask of my friends, who are all very busy. But maybe the task could be crowdsourced. Hm, I thought to myself. Where could I find a pool of highly literate, critical readers who might welcome a way to procrastinate?

So if this sounds like fun to you, have at it. I made a google account specifically for the purpose. The username is nubeginningsuf and the password is unfogged. Here is the story as a Google Doc. Here it is as a PDF. You can either leave feedback in comments here, or you can copy the document and leave comments. Maybe name the copy of the document with your 'nym so I know who the comments are from.

It's quite long, 28 pages, and I'll be grateful for whatever I get. If you think my readers were too sanguine and I need to rework it more, feel free to be very critical. I only ask that you be constructive. But know that I wouldn't have foisted this on you if I didn't have some reason to believe that at this point it's mostly enjoyable. I just want credit for not being a sadist.

Ephemera warning: at some point in the future I'll need to change the password on the google account so that the story isn't publicly available on the web.

By the way, if you give me a ton of feedback, feel free to send me something of yours so I can return the favor. I'm a helpful editor.

I have some issues I anticipate, but I guess I'll keep mum about them so as not to bias you. I'll just say that any feedback is great, but the feedback I dream of is very specific. For example, "this section should be shorter," is valuable, but "I nominate this sentence for deletion" is even better.


 

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ATM: Family Day Holiday!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.19.13

Thorn writes: We just got the date for the termination of the baby's parents' rights and it's going to happen on the same day as Nia's, which ups the odds we could adopt them on the same day. Nia's been planning her adoption party for months and I do want to throw a big bash, probably, but also it might be nice to start some "family day" traditions and so I'm curious about how you came up with yours and whether they stay static or you add new ones every year or what.

Heebie's take: Hooray and congratulations! For those that don't know, we celebrate Geebie Family Day every spring. One main difference between ours and yours is that intrinsically, we didn't have anything to celebrate. (I mean, we did*, but nothing that the kids give a rat's ass about.) So in essence, ours was invented wholesale.

My main concern when starting our own holiday was that it would fizzle out and end up being a half-hearted cupcake after a couple years, kind of like Minivet's mom's diminishing efforts around Hanukkah. So our first solution was that Geebie Family Day has to incorporate other people. Each year, the basic structure is that we rent a house. On Friday we have family night and on Saturday we have a big party for all our friends. (One year we had it at our own house, because we had out of town guests and hadn't yet had a house-warming party since building the addition, and the party really didn't have much of a celebration feel. Everyone left early.)

Here's what I would do, if I were a type of person who enjoyed carrying out such plans: I would plot individually with each kid, a few weeks in advance, on two fronts:
1. Some sort of decoration that they would acquire/make/contribute
2. Some sort of food or treat that they want to contribute to the Feast.

Then I would do a bunch of arts and crafts with them, and put their wares up all over the house, in advance. I think you really have to stoke the anticipation for it to feel like a holiday.

Unfortunately, I don't remember to do that sort of thing in practice. Maybe as the kids get older it will make more sense. Right now we coast on the fact that we're going to a whole 'nother house. (Also, on Friday night we plant Cheerios, which grow into doughnuts overnight.) Mineshaft: ideas?

*We're celebrating our secret wedding date, which was shortly before Hawaii was born. Our public wedding date was six months later.



 

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How Did I Not Know This?

Posted by LizardBreath
on 12.19.13

China just landed a rover on the moon? If the kids hadn't mentioned it over breakfast yesterday, I would have never heard about this.


 

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Preventative care

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.18.13

I get why, with respect to health care, you hear that prevention ought to be covered because it saves money down the road, but it kind of bugs me on two levels:

1. Yes, longterm chronic conditions are hella expensive. But getting prediabetes at age 40 and dying of a heart attack at 60 is probably about the same cost as getting prediabetes at age 65 and dying of a heart attack at age 85.
2. The reason you want to provide preventative care is because it's the humanitarian thing to do. Full stop. Of the two scenarios in (1), your life is much richer if you live the latter.

Although (1) is tangentially related to a different thought: that it drives me fucking nuts that the 1% (for lack of a better word - those who sabotage progessive reform) don't see that it is in their own best interests to ameliorate poverty. That more money churning through the economy will boost their own profits and make them even wealthier.

I suppose that's the companion thought to LB's thought from a few days ago that extreme poverty in 2013 (in the US) seems to be as miserable as extreme poverty during the Depression, even though in absolute terms the Depression is much worse. Relative position matters a lot, psychologically, and wealthy people care enough about their relative position to sabotage their absolute position.

Please don't mistake this for a post with a unified, coherent point. In fact, the first half almost contradicts the second half. In the first half I'm complaining that people are overly focused on the practical instead of the humanitarian reason to provide preventative care. In the second half I'm complaining that people are insufficiently focused on the practical reasons to ameliorate poverty, instead of the obvious humanitarian reason.


 

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Century club

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.17.13

A friend of mine recently had a status update that she has run more 100 milers than any other length of race, and it was a non-trivial statement. I asked her a few questions about what it's like to run a hundred miler. She said the winning times for women are usually in the 18-24 hour range, and that her range is usually 22-32 hours, depending on the terrain. I asked if she stopped and rested, and she said no - some people do, but she wouldn't trust herself to get up and keep going.

I can't even fathom. Trudging at a decent clip for longer than an entire day. I'm guessing you run a marathon, and then walk for an hour, and then repeat three more times?


 

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NSA

Posted by Ogged
on 12.17.13

Really good piece on the NSA during the Obama years. Of course, it's long, so everyone here will be all "What? Who has the time?"


 

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Guest Post - Reinvention

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.16.13

Turgid Jacobian writes: I know that gswift and Sifu Tweety are each on careers other than the first. Have any other of the minshaftians significantly reinvented themselves after a false step (or merely a less-than-satisfying sure one)? How big a step did you take? What preparations did you make?

Heebie's take: Oh, this is a good question. It's something I loosely daydream about but I'm super risk-averse and basically like my job. Although sometimes I hate it.

I don't know what I would do. I think it would be interesting to go learn some statistics and do public policy stuff, but I also find it very stressful to confront the realities of politics, people and society. I like the idea of being a therapist, kinda, but I know there are people who can repeat themselves for years with very little self-insight, and that might kill me. I should probably just keep teaching math.


 

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Onoda

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.16.13

I found the story of Onoda, the Japanese soldier who kept fighting for 29 years after WWII ended, kind of profound.

He wasn't forgotten about and didn't fall through the cracks, which made it all the more compelling to me. Also I like a writer who does not wrap things up tidily in the end - Onoda is foolish and tragic and heroic, all in one mess.


 

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Goings on.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.16.13

The sign language interpreter during Mandela's funeral just spouted gibberish.

Also this is a total gas:

Both via E. Messily


 

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One Thought Too Many

Posted by Ogged
on 12.15.13

I was on the train today, and a few seats behind me a minor drama unfolded, as a forty-something man named Miguel had taken I know not what, but a lot of it, because he was hunched over, hands in his pockets, barely able to keep his eyes open, as the conductor, then conductors, tried to help him determine whether he had either a ticket, or ID, or money to buy a ticket. He made no noise and seemed physically incapable of searching anything farther away than his pockets. After a couple of minutes of one-sided interaction, the conductors withdrew to give him time to come around, and returned in about ten minutes to an unchanged Miguel. Following what I imagine is protocol, they told him that if he couldn't produce any of the three items, he'd be met by the police at the next stop. They were firm, but polite throughout, for which I give them (two whitey guys barely thirty-years-old) credit.

As I was listening to the second act, I knew that the obvious and decent thing to do would be to buy Miguel a ticket (twenty bucks) and end the drama and let him get to wherever he was going. But because I can't have a thought without following it up with a contradictory thought, I thought, "But what if he's a child molester! You want to buy a ticket for a child molester? Not enough information to proceed!" Completely ridiculous, and in violation of a rule I had developed years ago when dealing with panhandlers and other small-time cons: do the kind thing, and what happens after that is someone else's responsibility.

As I was having this inane dialogue with myself, a stylish, white and white-haired lady of about sixty bought the man his ticket and that was the end of that.


 

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The Case For FILF

Posted by Ogged
on 12.15.13

Hard to believe y'all haven't discussed the much-discussed, much-maligned Case for Filth. At the very least, one must admit that "Domesticity is the macho nonsense of women" is first class provocation. But the counterpoint is pretty obviously correct.

I bring it up because the combination of the articles points a way forward from the interminable "you care more / I don't even notice / you're better at it / you lazy fuck" discussions that bedevil so many partnerships. I submit: sit down and explicitly define the baseline of cleanliness/order that you can both/all agree on. Whether or not "What is the job?" is a genuine issue, having a point of consensus can foreclose it as an avenue of excuse. And explicitly defining what is to be done also affords an opportunity to decide how to balance what's on the list, with what's not on the list, eg, I work more, so you do these two things, I'll do this one, etc.


 

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Lyrics NSFW

Posted by Ogged
on 12.15.13

You're all going to be like, "Oh, Dan Reeder, he played at my bar mitzvah last year" but he's new to me, so, Work Song, I Drink Beer, and My LIttle Bitty Pee Pee. More performance art than musical performance, but he's smart and funny.


 

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