Monday, January 16, 2006


According to a poll I head on the news today, over 60% of black Americans do something to mark Martin Luther King Day each year, while only 16% of white Americans do so.

When Dr. King was shot, I was just about to turn 10, and was not especially aware of race and politics in America. I do remember that we traveled to Nashville shortly afterward, and it was as if the city was under martial law. But that was only a fleeting impression of the city at the time, and it wasn't until much later that I began to learn about the history of race relations here. I'm sorry that I never knew of Dr. King while he was active, only as a historical figure.

While I never had the honor of meeting Dr. King, I was fortunate enough to get to meet Morris Dees, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center a few years ago when he spoke at the university. I am glad that he is brave and persistent enough to carry on the work; there is still so much remaining to be done, and I am honored to have gotten the chance to talk briefly with him.

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Turnabout is fair play, I guess

Well, I've been inadvertently scaring Diana a lot lately, so I guess it's only fair that she gave me a scare today, although I'm relieved to report there was a happy ending.

Last night, while catching Diana to give her her thyroid medicine, I noticed a hard lump in her "breast" (in sensu strictu, cats don't have breasts, but it's a more convenient shorthand than any of the refinements of "mammary gland" which would be more technically correct).

When you're conducting self-exams and you find a lump, it's not necessarily cancer, and you need to see a health-care practitioner to make sure, since there are so many possibilities, cancerous and non--but there is a rule of thumb: hard (like a BB) tends to be more worrisome than soft (like a cyst). Again, you can't know without seeing a health-care practitioner, but when her lump felt like a BB, I couldn't help worrying. I took her to the first appointment I could get today at my vet with a real feeling of dread.

The thing about lumps, though, is that they can have many different causes, and take different courses, so even rules of thumb like the one above aren't always right. The vet performed a fine-needle aspiration, and we were both hoping to biopsy a few cells out of what we thought was tissue, to look at under the microscope.

What we got instead, happily, was a lot of acellular fluid (probably serum, backed up inside a clogged duct, due to the holiday from grooming she's decided that she, as an old kitty, is entitled to embark upon).

That means that what I was dreading as cancer from that hard, solid feel, was really what should have felt like a fluid-filled cyst, one of the more benign outcomes. I went to the vet's dreading what I was going to hear; I left in much better spirits. We lost one of the Dorothies (hamsters) to mammary cancer last year; in three weeks, she went from small visible lump to poor quality of life, and I was so sure we were going to repeat that. [The reason they were all named Dorothy is that I took a repro biology course a couple of years ago, and we learned how to perform Pap smears on (bitey!) Siberian hamsters. Their fate at the end of the course seemed as though it might be uncertain, so I adopted my cohort, and they retired from their lab careers. My friend Dorothy objected to the adoption on the grounds that we already have too many pets, and she kept on objecting, so I named them all three Dorothy, just to piss her off in the hope she would grow to accept her namesakes.]

And since Diana's getting older and slowing down so much, and letting the grooming go, I guess we can add another kitty maintenance task to Mr. Raven's and my checklist. Not a bad tradeoff for such a benign diagnosis, though.

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Not exactly like watching paint dry

Well, it's good to know that all the world's problems have been solved--MSNBC keeps updating us and cutting back to a broken water main break in Maryland, so that means there must not be any more pressing world news out there or anything.

Note to self: finish PhD fast, so I can afford some *real* international news channels, instead of this basic-cable CNN and MSNBC crap...

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy 2006!

I hope that this will be a year filled with happiness and good will. It's going to be a busy one, that's for sure. I'm making a push to finish my dissertation and graduate in June; I'm TA-ing a course in public health informatics and applying for post-docs, and I'm finally finishing a book that I've been working on for almost a decade. Paradoxically, I plan to blog more regularly, as well--my writing needs honing, and I find that writing on the web is good discipline for me that way. So I expect this to be a very good and productive year, and I wish that for everyone else as well.

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