On One Hand

May 31, 2009

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May 30, 2009

Protected: WTF of the Week

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May 27, 2009

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May 26, 2009

Cancer is contagious — wha!?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:01 pm
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The first time any of us witnessed a cancer patient – a bald-headed peer in our elementary school, an aunt or grandmother with an appointment for a mastectomy, or a grandpa who got a dark, funny-looking mole removed – a reassuring adult explained that cancer isn’t contagious. Cancer is our body’s own growth turned against us, sparked by a precise series of genetic mutations that debilitate a cell’s self-regulation but fail to kill it. It escapes immune detection because it is our body’s own cell; a cancer cell transfered to a new body would be recognized as foreign and pulverized by vigilant white blood cells.

Ther’s also the problem of getting an intact cancer cell into another person’s healthy tissue in the first place. Viruses spread because they are are extremely small packages of genetic material that can float through the air or wait on dry surfaces, hardy because they were never really “living” from the start. Bacteria are contagious because they can grow outside the body, can wait on skin, thrive in saliva or feces, and can often survive drying and re hydration by turning themselves into hardy spores. But a cancer cell is, first and foremost, a dependent tissue cell from a multicellular organism, which needs to be inside an organism to survive. It would have to be carefully detached alive, kept moist and immediately implanted directly into the deep tissue of another organism to recover and begin growing. When cancer spreads through a single person’s body in a malignancy, it does so by traveling through her or his own nourishing blood or lymphatic channels, never emerging outsisde the body.

There are a few kinds of cancers caused by a virus, including cervical cancers, genital cancers (usually caused by the Human papillomavirus) and Kaposi’s Sarcoma, found in people with advanced HIV infections and the elderly. Clusters of cancer cases have sprung up in rare anomalies where a virus is thought to have been the cause. Many common viruses lead to increased cancer risks – for example mononucleosis, caused by the Epstein-Barr virus which virtually everyone gets, is linked to an increased risk of developing leukemia. But in all these cases it is the virus that is contagious, not the cancer itself.

But there are two kinds of cancer that are actually contagious in and of themselves, spreading as living cancer cells from one organism to another. One is responsible for landing the Tasmanian devil on the endangered species list and threatens to wipe out that species.


Tasmanian facial tumor disease, image from the Public Library of Science

Tasmanian devils have the unfortunate habit of biting each other on the face while feeding and mating, often drawing blood. That allows living cancer cells of devil facial tumor disease to be implanted directly into the facial tissue of another Tasmanian devil. The tumors are fast-growing and kill the animal by overwhelming its face and preventing it from eating, leading to starvation. The disease has already affected between 20 and 50 percent of the Tasmanian devil population and has mutated into several different strains. But upon a genetic analysis of one of those tumor cells, you would find neither a fungus nor bacteria, but rapidly-growing Tasmanian devil cells from another individual.

The other kind of contagious cancer is the Canine transmissible venereal tumor, affecting dogs, foxes and coyotes. It spreads by sexual intercourse and affects the genitals and occasionally the face. It is estimated to have originated from a couple hundred to a couple thousand years ago, meaning that the original host’s own cells long outlived it; its cells continue to survive, as a pathogen, in other canines to this day.

Transmissible cancers break the rules of cancer by spreading from individual to individual, but are also unique among contagious diseases because they originate in an animal among its own cells. It would be as if a bump on your skin, part of your body, grew into a disease that started planting itself in other people and killing them. Anyone who got infected with your cancer would contain all of your your mutated DNA in their tumors – they’d essentially be dying of you, as a parasitic disease.

May 25, 2009

Protected: Let’s go on a Regulation Vacation!

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May 23, 2009

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May 22, 2009

Our Treatment of the NY World Trade Center Site is Weird

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 6:49 pm
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I’m somewhat of an urban planning and architecture junkie, always talking about what should be built on a given site downtown, always cheering increased density or critiquing whether a new building is good or bad. I’d say it’s my second interest besides politics (or maybe third behind politics and plants).

But there are a few places in the world where politics and urban planning intersect, and foremost is the redeveloped Word Trade Center site in New York City.

I think the U.S. set itself up for failure when it made re-building the World Trade Center a matter of national pride in the face of 9/11. Of course I was there cheering it along at the time, but if we’d had the foresight we would have known that the issue was too political for anything to get done quickly, especially when the speed of redevelopment, too, became part of the politics. The U.S. government had no control over what was under the local jurisdiction of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Port Authority was not a good mediator of nationwide politics. Now we know that on the 10-year anniversary of the 2001 attacks, the spot will remain a construction zone.

In late 2001, mythologizing 9/11 seemed the right thing to do. Anything suggested in its name was rammed through without debate; the government outright gave $7 billion to victims’ families (1.8 million per person), then Iraq War rolled forward in spite of a total lack of supporting evidence, a wave of Republican election victories swept the nation even when Democrats were agreeing with them on foreign policy, and the federal government clamped down on civil liberties without a political backlash.

Meanwhile, we would have been better had we not concluded that the exact spot of the destroyed twin towers was the best place for the memorial.

People often sanctify the exact location of large-scale disasters; the city of Hiroshima, Japan built a “peace park” at the epicenter of the 1945 bombing, and the U.S. put a memorial in the center of Pearl Harbor, leaving the sunken USS Arizona in the ocean. If a disaster happens in a rural area – or is so widespread that an entire portion of a city is relocated – I think that’s fitting to memorialize it on-site; take, for instance, Auschwitz. But we didn’t put a memorial in the exact spot where John F. Kennedy was shot or where buildings were shaken to the ground in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake – it’s not practical in a big-city setting. Nor do we bury people where they die; otherwise interstate highways and hospitals would be littered with tombs. It’s sometimes better to relocate to a place of peace and quiet – like a nearby park – than to deal with the complicated process of memorializing deceased people in the middle of a busy thoroughfare or the economic center of the free world.

So somebody said the WTC footprints should be turned into its memorial, and everyone was forced to either agree or offend the multitudes of people who were emotionally caught up in the issue. I think the breakdown of real contemplation ultimately dehumanized the WTC victims, who were defined, politically, not by their lives but by the way and location where they died.

I don’t think many people are emotionally connected to the office building where they work. Nor do they wish to be remembered by the fact that they died in a shooting or of cancer or of kidney disease or a car accident. Think about everything that is meaningful in your life today: your family, your home, your friends, your town of origin – if you were to be killed tomorrow, in, say, a violent robbery in a shopping mall across town from where you live, would that mall suddenly represent your life? Would you want your tombstone to be located in that exact Sacks Fifth Avenue, converted into an outdoor courtyard surrounded by remaining stores, busy streets and parking lots? Would you want your life to me memorialized as “Ohio’s battle against cash robberies,” something you had no relationship with before you were shot in a Toledo clothing store?

To me it seems weird to require a memorial at the site. And now we’re dealing with a crisis: ten years have passed and nothing of significance has been built on the site, partially because of the lengthy cleanup, and partially because it’s been so hard to work out the politics. They’re building something that was first called Freedom Tower, 1,776 feet tall to memorialize the year of America’s founding, and given a name that could have emerged straight from the Bush Administration’s argument that 9/11 was not a tragic historic event launched by misguided extremists, but instead about free America verses all the evil un-free forces of the world. And due to the global financial collapse – coincidentally, itself centered in Lower Manhattan – the Port Authority cannot secure financing to start reconstruction of secondary towers. The Port Authority wants to build the tower bases first and fill them with retail – an urban planner’s dream for maximizing the use of any high-profile urban space beneath a building – but is facing cries that it’s wrong to locate retail so close to a memorial. It’s “too commercialized,” critics say.

Is a retail center any less commercialized than the current plan, for corporate office towers housing the offices of Wall Street companies?

This all would have been avoided by simply not locating the memorial on site. A place of reflection could have been in Central Park or even Battery Park, just a few blocks away and on the edge of the water – a beautiful site, every bit as high in profile as the trade center but more fittingly quiet.

Then, the Trade Center site could have been rebuilt with restored buildings that matched the impact of the originals. New York could get its iconic Twin Towers back. I personally would have updated the architecture and exposed more glass, and used something other than square shapes and flat roofs, but replicated the basic structure of the Twin Towers making use of the foundations already drilled into Manhattan bedrock. The plaza should have been filled with trees – and perhaps a fountain or pool or a plaque commemorating the site – put at the gateway of an elaborate transit center, embracing and living in the city rather than isolating itself. Lower Manhattan was, and still is, very much an epicenter of economic activity in the world. It should continue thus, making use of the extreme density and centralized location to build something as high-profile as it is busy.

The current plans I’ve seen for the restored Trade Center site clash with the planned memorial, which calls for reflection pools in the footprints of World Trade Center buildings 1 and 2 surrounded by supertall office towers. They’re trying to build this peaceful, quiet, naturesque area in what is literally the most opposite location on Earth.

A number of weird fixations have happened since the 9/11 attacks. The hijackers who flew the planes died alongside their victims – and their bodies ended up among the rubble with the others. The excavation crews had been identifying remains through DNA testing to give remains back to the families – in tiny fragments, the size of a fingernail shaving or tooth. But remains that couldn’t be identified as a victim were given a second barrage of tests, just to make sure they weren’t from one of the hijackers. The need to punish the unpunishable (unpunishable because they are dead) is so intense that millions will be spent testing remains so someone can stomp on them or burn them or do some disrespectful thing to insult the murderers’ memory. There is no popular religion, nor is there any philosophy held by nonreligious people, suggesting that what happens to a body after death has any bearing on the soul – in fact most religions teach the opposite. Yet real money is being spent to make sure Muhammad Atta’s canine tooth is punished for his crimes.

Meanwhile, remember Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11 when the flight’s passengers fought to regain control of the flight. The first plan for a memorial, called “crescent of embrace,” was modified when critics said it was an insult to allude to a symbol in Islam in the memorial. Instead they will turn the crescent into a circle they are calling a “bowl”, with a line to indicate the direction the plane crashed from. To me that seems an even weirder fetishization of the circumstances of 9/11 – you wouldn’t immortalize the path of a car in a fatal accident or diagram bullet paths on a person’s tombstone – but even that arrangement may go, since some have pointed out that the line points roughly towards Mecca.

If there wasn’t going to be a 10-year delay before anything gets substantially off the ground, I wouldn’t have criticized the decision to build the World Trade Center site the way it is being built. If preserving the footprints of towers 1 and 2 in the memorial is that worth it to somebody, let him have that – unless it means the deaths of nearly 3,000 people would be needlessly politicized and the memorial delayed. Now the more complicated scenario has happened. And now the twin towers, which once were the icons of New York City, will not exist.

I’m sure what eventually goes up will work, and be modern, and last a long time. They’re pouring millions upon millions of dollars in resources into this development and we should hope that the people of New York get what they paid for just as they did the first time the World Trade Center was built. But one of the obstacles to plow through is there because of of a possibility that the Port Authority was unwilling to accept – of moving the memorial somewhere else, not using the exact footprints of the towers as reflecting pools.

May 20, 2009

Uh… that was predictable.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:41 pm

I just watched American Idol for the first time since I was in high school. It was the season finale of the program, and the first time an openly gay person has been in the top two so I figured an interesting social moment to watch.

The competition was between two very nice guys, both surely better-than-average when it comes to talent. They seem to have forged a real friendship and are very gracious, and for the first time I’m looking at pop culture without my usual tinge of bitterness that morality has so little bearing on who makes it and who doesn’t.

But this is an analisys of who won and why. And what we had was, essentially, a popular preppy kid beating out the jaded, effeminate alternative kid who hangs out in the smoker’s pit.

Consider it a microcosm of high school America, considering who would win prom king at your school:

One character is Kris, the gut-wrenchingly cute, popular, clean-cut preppy boy who gets straight A’s. He’s humble and friendly and the kind of guy the teachers just love.

Then we have Adam, who is gay and forward, a bit gaunt, sings “change is gonna come” and Queen, hangs out at the smoker’s pit, wears eye makeup and dresses in black.

Remember that American Idol is a major area of interest for kids in high school, especially the kids of kids who get caught up in mainstream pop culture. Who do you really think is gonna win?

Before I saw this episode I rolled my eyes at the suggestion that Adam Lambert was something special; I’d seen him in photos. Is the emo gay guy who wears eye makeup and snaps really original? Compare him to the folksy, earthy guy who actually plays guitar and piano.

I thought the emo hair flip was cliche, and the eye makeup and gawdy clothing are narcisistic and over-the-top. Judging by image alone, Lambert is a supersized-version of every died-hair cigarette-smoking gay kid I’d ever seen with aspirations of being a pop star. I kind of rolled my eyes at people who were excited about him. I’d take the guitar player in plaid over the guy with eye liner any day.

But after watching the final episode, my impression was that Adam Lambert was head-and-shoulders more talented than Kris Allen. You’d hear a clip from Allen’s performances and think he’s not bad, then hear Lambert and think wow. He has a great stage presence and a rockstar quality that no amount of boy-band cuteness can overcome, even if Idol’s viewing audience falls for the boy-band.

Lambert’s superior talent is what made this notable. If Allen was better than Lambert, his victory would not only have been predictable, but unremarkable as well. But we had a mediocre performer beating a superior performer and nobody being too shocked.

Music is usually about being edgy and breaking the rules, not about being neat and perfect. I am sure the program’s producers would have rather gone with Lambert, though I also suspect that he will be glad to be free of them.

May 17, 2009

TwitLog, 4Twits

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 7:27 pm

I’m going to start a Twitter-style Video Blog.

It will be called, Twit-log. Twitlog on YouTube.

etc…

May 12, 2009

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