100 Percent Chance of Getting Struck by a Meteorite

My sister died today in a car accident.

I know, at least, that in six years it won’t hurt quite as much as it does tonight, although I will miss her every single day.

And how, Oh Best Beloved, do I know that?

Because six years ago my father was killed in a car accident.

Dorothy Michalek, September 7, 1946 – February 27, 2007

Simple Gifts

Stack of Gifts

Yesterday morning I had a delightful phone call from a friend, one of those conversations that warms the soul immensely. Last evening I had another call, equally enjoyable, from yet another friend. I’ve been thinking since on how different these two friends are, yet how much both mean to me.

They are an eclectic assortment of individuals, my friends, each quite different from the next. An octogenarian friar, an executive secretary, a lawyer, a children’s librarian, an exhausted mother of two autistic children, a retired army colonel, an archivist, a horse breeder – those are the sorts of descriptions by which my friends are known in the world.

I know them differently.

Each has a story, unique, rich and deep.

One has just started treatments for cancer, yet cancer does not define her and never will.

Another owns a wine and olive shop in Belize, and would be the first in line if you needed a kidney and she was a match.

A third visits wounded American military personnel, bringing them small homey gifts like fresh-baked cookies, and the comfort of a friendly face.

Yet another gently cares for his wife, and her twin sister, who are both terminally ill, while struggling with serious health problems himself.

One is steadfastly conservative, another radically liberal. Some have taken holy orders, while others profess no religious faith at all. A few are poor; one is quite wealthy.

None of them look alike.

So what is the common thread?

We help each other laugh, especially when, as one of them says, yet another meteorite strikes.

That, Oh Best Beloved, is a precious gift.

“With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.”
Abraham Lincoln

Today’s Special Is:

Sudoku Puzzle

Sudoku Recipe (serves 2)

Ingredients:

1 Sudoku puzzle (electronic)
1 kitchen table
2 chairs
1 mathematician (Sudoku illiterate)
1 statistician (Sudoku illiterate)
1 laptop
1 internet connection

Put laptop on medium-sized kitchen table, and connect to Internet. Bring up one Sudoku puzzle (rated 5* or “most difficult”). Seat mathematician and statistician in front of laptop. Link to Wikipedia article on Sudoku. Challenge mathematician and statistician (who obviously live in a cave as they’ve never heard of Sudoku) to read Wiki article about Sudoku, then solve puzzle together.

Whoa! Who would have thunk you could actually have fun with numbers?

And I Will Sent Hornets Before Thee

Green Sweat Bee Minding Its Own Business

I have a quirk — a troublesome habit, one might say — that frequently drives me to question the methodology used to derive results that appear in various reports.

Especially when such results are outlandish, given the rest of the data.

This quirk doesn’t always make everyone else happy.

Today, at the request of a friend, I reviewed a set of blood tests that showed that blood drawn from him has “zero” parts of a particular constituent that makes up human blood.

Say what?

Indeed, Oh Best Beloved, that’s what that printout said.

Now, it is possible, just possible, that the test results are accurate.

Highly unlikely – but possible. If, for example, the blood had come from an individual who had been sitting inside the center of a nuclear reactor, why, then, the result documented so nicely on the laboratory’s test findings is exactly what this particular blood test should show.

Since my friend isn’t glowing in the dark, and has perfectly normal results for all the other indicators that would have been blown out of the water by radiation poisoning, it seems a trifle unlikely that massive (or long-term lower dose) radioactive exposure explains this little oddity in his blood work.

So. Shouldn’t one then wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, that blood test might have a teeny tiny little error in it?

Apparently, according to “Debbie” at the laboratory, one should not. One must call “doctor” because “doctor” will explain what the lab results “mean.”

Fine and well. Except that’s not what I had asked Debbie about. I had asked Debbie which specific methodology was used to obtain the results in her lab tests. As an aside, Debbie already knew that an MD hadn’t ordered these tests. These were done at a “direct access testing” laboratory, and ordered directly by the individual who had the blood drawn. This is a perfectly legal process and available to anyone who wishes to pay for it here in the USA.

And… I specifically didn’t want any interpretation of the results, as they aren’t my blood tests. I had no interest in asking questions about someone else’s medical information. Just in case, I’d covered that by having my friend call first to give the lab permission to talk to me specifically about his results, if necessary. Debbie was actually calling me – based on that request to her lab from my friend. I hadn’t called her.

“I’m not asking for an interpretation of the results,” says I. “I’m asking, as I’ve already explained, if this test was run using a machine scan or via human inspection. The results look like you ran it via machine, and the machine hiccuped and gave a false zero.”

“You have to ask “doctor” what the lab results mean.”

“I don’t know anyone named “doctor,” says I, with a tad of annoyance. “And, let me repeat once again, I am not asking what the lab tests mean. I am specifically asking what methodology your lab used to run this blood work for this specific count because, quite frankly, the results looks like lab error. And if it isn’t lab error, then we’ve got some extremely odd results that may indicate an individual with a serious health problem. So if you can’t answer my question, please find someone who can and get them on the line.”

“You’ll have to ask ‘doctor.’”

“‘Doctor’ won’t have an answer, Debbie, because the question is, ‘what methodology did your lab use to obtain these results? Mechanical or manual diff?’ It’s not reported on the form, so any MD that looks at this information won’t have that answer.”

“You’ll have to ask ‘doctor.’”

Have I ever mentioned, Oh Best Beloved, that my paper on the statistical problems and errors inherent in laboratory tests has been and is used to teach students at universities, and medical personnel, about the limits of such diagnostic tests? Have I ever mentioned that the information about which methodology is used in a test can make a critical difference in interpreting the accuracy of the results? Have I mentioned that this information isn’t the least bit secret and laboratories know this and provide information as to testing methodology quite freely to anyone who asks for it, just for this reason?

And have I mentioned, Oh Best Beloved, that I find stonewalling a trifle annoying? Annoying in a way akin to the annoyance that hornets feel when a stick is poked into their nest?

I believe, I truly do, that Debbie now understands that.

Just call me “hornet.”

The blood work results were indeed obtained by the machine based methodology, and are therefore likely in error.

I would be remiss if I didn’t express my deepest thanks to Debbie’s replacement, “Crystal,” who not only knew the answer to the question I had asked, but also was pleasant and professional to boot.

A piece of unsolicited advice for all the “Debbies” out there: be careful where you poke your stick.

You might just encounter a hornet.

They Eat Horses, Don’t They?

Yesterday, one of my friends sent me Joel Stein’s trolling commentary from this week’s Time magazine, where he advocates eating horse meat. Mr. Stein says,

I decided not to let a bunch of horse freaks… prevent me from eating meat enjoyed in Japan, Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.

Let’s see, we have eight countries in the world that eat horse meat, so therefore the rest of us that don’t condone eating the likes of Barbaro are “horse freaks?”

Huh. Guess this is one of those times where you can count me in with the “freaks.”

Mr. Stein then went on to say,

It’s not that I don’t think killing horses is cruel. It’s just that I think killing chickens, pigs, sheep and cows is equally bad. Morality based on aesthetics is pretty shallow.

Do you now? Personally, I find journalism based on opinion yet presented as fact not only shallow, but contemptuous.

Here’s just one fact – among many – not based on the “aesthetics” Mr. Stein sneered at. Slaughtering horses isn’t the same as killing animals bred and raised for human consumption. The American Humane Society (hardly a radical group of “horse freaks”), points out that

horses are different from cattle (and other animals specifically bred, sold, and transported for human consumption) due to their instinctive flight response in stressful conditions, making it difficult to accurately stun them prior to slaughter. Undercover footage has demonstrated that many horses are dismembered while fully conscious, underscoring the need to ban this utterly inhumane process.

Ah, but Mr. Stein believes that objections to horse slaughter equates us to being “a nation that thinks like a 14-year-old girl.”

Oh, puh-leeze.

Even if I could agree with Mr. Stein’s position (which will happen when pigs sprout wings and fly), I somehow can’t find it in me to respect someone who brags in print about lying on their customs forms so they can illegally import such a “delicacy” as horse meat.

Cultural taboos and humane considerations aside, if Mr. Stein wants to chow down on an animal that has been pumped full of pesticides and insecticidal wormers, injected with antibiotics that aren’t approved for meat animals, or given pharmaceuticals like Lasix, and doused daily with fly spray – all standard practice and allowed under current regulations, as a horse isn’t a meat animal for human consumption in the USA – then, hey, he should go for it. He richly deserves precisely what he’s injesting.

But first, Mr. Stein, move to Japan, Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany or Austria. This is the United States. We don’t eat horses here.

Bon appetite.