dimanche, mai 31, 2009

the lunatic fringe

Dr. George Tiller, one of only a few doctors who perform late-term abortions, was gunned down in church today as he handed out the church bulletin. That's right. A pro-life terrorist shot and killed a physician in a house of god. The irony would be delicious if it weren't so completely horrific.

Some in the pro-life movement are praising his murder as justifiable homicide and an act of god. They are the same violent extremists who have targeted him for years:
  • In 1986, his clinic was bombed.
  • In 1991, it was blockaded for six weeks.
  • In 1993, he was shot in both arms.
  • In March, Kansas prosecutors tried him on charges of breaking an abortion law; he was acquitted.
  • In May, vandals cut wires to security cameras and made holes in the roof of Tiller's clinic, Women's Health Care Services, a fortified single-story building where abortion foes keep daily vigil.
A history of violence on the antiabortion fringe
Dr. George Tiller's slaying is the latest in a decades-long campaign of shootings, bombings and vandalism carried out by extremists from the mostly peaceful movement.
By Richard Fausset
June 1, 2009
Reporting from Atlanta -- Bombings. Butyric acid attacks. Sniper shootings. Letters filled with fake anthrax. These are some of the tactics used over the years by antiabortion extremists.

The slaying of Dr. George Tiller in his Kansas church Sunday was part of a decades-long history of domestic terrorism aimed at abortion providers, carried out by a small minority of the much broader and generally peaceful movement that opposes abortion.

The National Abortion Federation, which supports abortion rights, has documented more than 6,100 acts of violence against abortion providers in the United States and Canada since 1977. The group classifies as "violent" not only the acts of murder, attempted murder, bombing and arson, but also vandalism, burglary and stalking, among others.

Tiller's slaying appears to be the eighth of an abortion clinic worker in the U.S. or Canada and the fourth of a doctor. A fifth doctor was shot but survived -- as did Tiller in a previous attack.

These illegal tactics -- denounced by many peaceful antiabortion activists -- multiplied in the 1980s, as the broader movement shifted away from pressuring the women who were having abortions to the medical personnel providing them, according to Carole Joffe, a sociology professor at UC Davis.

The shift in emphasis was a smart public relations move for those who oppose abortion, casting women as victims while exploiting public uneasiness over doctors who performed the procedure. Those public sentiments stemmed, in part, from the existence of ethically sketchy, "back-alley" abortion providers in the era before the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling that legalized abortion, Roe vs. Wade.

Clinics and clinic workers were subject to vandalism, bombings and death threats through the 1980s, but it was not until March 1993 that the United States saw the first known political slaying of an abortion provider.

Dr. David Gunn was shot during an antiabortion protest at a Pensacola, Fla., clinic. The year before, a "wanted" poster with Gunn's photo and home phone number had been distributed at a Montgomery, Ala., antiabortion rally sponsored by the group Operation Rescue, according to an Associated Press report.

Five months after Gunn's slaying, Tiller was shot in both arms outside his Wichita clinic by a woman who had praised Gunn's killer as a hero.

In response, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which President Clinton signed in May 1994. The law outlawed "force, threat of force or physical obstruction" to patients and clinic workers.

Supporters of abortion rights credit the law with stemming some of the intimidation at clinics. But serious incidents continued throughout Clinton's presidency, which was viewed as inhospitable to the antiabortion cause.

In July 1994, Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister, shot and killed Dr. John Britton and a 74-year-old clinic escort in Pensacola. In December of that year, John Salvi III shot up two Boston-area clinics, killing two receptionists and injuring five other people.

In January 1998, a bomb planted at a Birmingham, Ala., clinic killed a security guard and injured a nurse. The culprit, Eric Rudolph, a foe of gay rights and abortion, had also carried out a bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, which killed one and injured more than 100.

Rudolph disappeared into the mountains of Appalachia. He became the subject of a protracted manhunt and, in some circles, a folk hero. He was not captured until 2003. He pleaded guilty to a string of bombings and was sentenced to life in prison.

Until Tiller's slaying Sunday, the last known slaying of an abortion provider was in October 1998, when obstetrician Barnett Slepian was killed by James Kopp in Amherst, N.Y. Kopp was convicted of murder in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Less lethal tactics have included the release of foul-smelling butyric acid at clinics. In 2001, when the nation was gripped with fear stemming from legitimate anthrax threats, more than 500 clinics received letters with fake anthrax, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Those who support abortion rights maintain that violence and the threat of violence have led to a shortage of abortion providers. According to NARAL, 87% of U.S. counties lack an abortion provider.

travel tips for the roughest of countries

Op-Ed Columnist: Cum Laude in Evading Bandits
Published: May 30, 2009

One of the great failures of American universities is that they are far too parochial, rarely exposing students to worlds beyond our borders.

If colleges provide credit for dozing through an introductory Spanish class, why not give credit for a “gap year” in a Bolivian village? If students can learn about microfinance while sitting comatose in 9 a.m. lectures, couldn’t they learn more by volunteering with a lender in a Bangladesh slum?

So with summer starting, it’s up to students themselves to self-educate by setting off on their own. I hold my “win a trip” contest precisely to encourage such trips — I’m just back from visiting five West African countries with a University of South Carolina student. Yet when I encourage students’ wanderlust, questions invariably arise: Will I be safe? How do I avoid robbers and malaria?

In response, here are 15 tips for traveling to even the roughest of countries — and back:
  1. Carry a “decoy wallet,” so that if you are robbed by bandits with large guns, you have something to hand over. I keep $40 in my decoy wallet, along with an old library card and frequent-flier card. (But don’t begrudge the wallet: when my travel buddy was pickpocketed in Peru, we tried to jump the pickpocket, who turned out to be backed by an entire gang ... )
  2. Carry cash and your passport where no robber will find it. Assuming that few bandits read this column, I’ll disclose that I carry mine in a pouch that loops onto my belt and tucks under my trousers.
  3. Carry a tiny ski lock with a six-foot retractable wire. Use it to lock your backpack to a hotel bed when you’re out, or to the rack of a train car.
  4. At night, set a chair against your hotel door so that it will tip over and crash if someone slips in at 4 a.m. And lift the sheet to look for bloodstains on the mattress — meaning bed bugs.
  5. When it gets dark, always carry a headlamp in your pocket. I learned that from a friend whose hotel in Damascus lost power. He lacked a light but was able to feel his way up the stairs in the dark, find his room and walk in. A couple of final gropes, and he discovered it wasn’t his room after all. Unfortunately, it was occupied.
  6. If you’re a woman held up in an isolated area, stick out your stomach, pat it and signal that you’re pregnant. You might also invest in a cheap wedding band, for imaginary husbands deflect unwanted suitors.
  7. Be wary of accepting drinks from anyone. Robbers sometimes use a date rape drug to knock out their victims — in bars, in trains, in homes. If presented with pre-poured drinks, switch them with your host, cheerfully explaining: “This is an American good luck ritual!”
  8. Buy a secondhand local cell phone for $20, outfit it with a local SIM card and keep it in your pocket.
  9. When you arrive in a new city, don’t take an airport taxi unless you know it is safe. If you do take a cab, choose a scrawny driver and lock ALL the doors — thieves may pull open the doors at a red light and run off with a bag.
  10. Don’t wear a nice watch, for that suggests a fat wallet and also makes a target. I learned that lesson on my first trip to the Philippines: a robber with a machete had just encountered a Japanese businessman with a Rolex — who now, alas, has only one hand.
  11. Look out for fake cops or crooked ones. If a policeman tries to arrest you, demand to see some ID and use your cell phone to contact a friend.
  12. If you are held up by bandits with large guns, shake hands respectfully with each of your persecutors. It’s very important to be polite to people who might kill you. Surprisingly often, child soldiers and other bandits will reciprocate your fake friendliness and settle for some cash rather than everything you possess. I’ve even had thugs warmly exchange addresses with me, after robbing me.
  13. Remember that the scariest people aren’t warlords, but drivers. In buses I sometimes use my pack as an airbag; after one crash I was the only passenger not hospitalized.
  14. If terrorists finger you, break out singing “O Canada”!
  15. Finally, don’t be so cautious that you miss the magic of escaping your comfort zone and mingling with local people and staying in their homes. The risks are minimal compared with the wonders of spending time in a small village. So take a gap year, or volunteer in a village or a slum. And even if everything goes wrong and you are robbed and catch malaria, shrug it off — those are precisely the kinds of authentic interactions with local cultures that, in retrospect, enrich a journey and life itself.

jeudi, mai 28, 2009

rob's twitter-versy

Who knew Rob Thomas was so articulate?
The Big Gay Chip on My Shoulder
Rob Thomas, Singer/Songwriter
Posted: May 27, 2009 12:43 PM

I am a straight man, with a big gay chip on my shoulder.

A while back on my Twitter page (yes, I know how ridiculous it sounds), I mentioned that, if I believed in the devil, Pat Robertson might be him.

Being a fairly liberal-leaning guy with either liberal friends or Republican and Christian friends who don't believe that being one has anything to do with the other, I was surprised at how many people took offense to what I had to say.

These people weren't friends of Mr. Robertson but friends, apparently, of God. They had "spoken" with him and he had assured them that he was no friend of the gays. He also told them that he loved America more than any other country and was a huge fan of Dancing With the Stars.

The small controversy or "Twitter-versy" (patent on phrase pending) all started when I had made the mistake of asking why two people of the same sex shouldn't be able to make the same life-long commitment and (more importantly) under the same god, as straight people. Why can't my gay friends be as happily married as my wife and I? It seemed simple to me, but let me start off by telling you a series of things that I believe to be true:

I am a person who believes that people are born gay. I don't think you have any control over what moves you or to whom you're attracted. That's why it's called an attraction and not a choice.

I believe that America is a great nation of even greater people. I also believe that anyone who says that this is a "Christian nation" has RHS, or revisionist history syndrome, and doesn't realize that most of our founding fathers were either atheist or at least could see, even in the 1700s, that all through Europe at the time, religion was the cause of so much persecution that they needed to put into their brand new constitution a SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE so that the ideals of a group of people could never be forced onto the whole. (I also find it funny when people point out to me that it says "one nation under god" in our pledge of allegiance, not realizing that this was an addition made in 1954 during the communism scare of the McCarthy era. It's not surprising, however, knowing that these same people would punch me in the mouth if I called Jesus a Jew.)

I believe the fact that an atheist, who doesn't believe in God at all, is allowed to enter into the holy land of marriage while a gay Christian is not, shows that this law is arbitrary. Are we to believe that anyone who doesn't live their life according to the King James Bible isn't protected by the same laws that protect those who do? Using the same argument that I've seen on the 700 Club, that would mean that Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim weddings are also null and void.

I believe that to deny this right to the gay population is to say to them, "this god is not your god and he doesn't love you." There isn't one person who is against gay marriage that can give me a reason why it shouldn't be legal without bringing God or their religion into it. Still, I'm amazed at the audacity of a small, misdirected group of the ultra-conservative Christian right wing, to spend millions of dollars, in a recession, on advertisements to stop two men or women who love each other from being able to be married, but when you present any opposition to them, they accuse you of attacking their religion. Isn't it funny that the people who are the quickest to take someone's basic rights to happiness are always the loudest to scream when someone attacks their right to do so?

But this isn't a paper about religion. How could it be? Since we clearly have a separation of church and state, how could a conversation about laws have anything to do with religion at all? I'm writing about basic civil rights. We've been here before, fighting for the rights of African Americans or women to vote, or the rights of Jewish Americans to worship as they see fit. And, just as whites fought for African Americans or Christians for Jewish Americans, straight people must stand up and be a voice for gay people.

I've heard it said before, many times, that if two men or two women are allowed to join into a civil union together, why can't they be happy with that and why is it so important that they call it marriage? In essence, what's in a name?

A civil union has to do with death. It's essentially a document that gives you lower taxes and the right to let your faux spouse collect your insurance when you pass away. A marriage is about life. It's about a commitment. And this argument is about allowing people to have the right to make that commitment, even if it doesn't make sense to you. Anything else falls under the category of "separate but equal" and we know how that works out.

The support of legalizing gay marriage is in no way meant to change the ideals of the section of Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin. But we should refuse to let other people's ideals shape the way we live our lives. Each of us has a short ride on this earth and as long as we stay in our lane, and don't affect someone else's ride, we should be allowed to drive as we see fit.
Via Jerry

mercredi, mai 27, 2009

your point of view is medieval

Sometimes the absurd demands the absurd ... and the tune's catchy as all get-out. Lily Allen's - GWB (Fuck You Very Much) has gone from being a cheeky missive directed at the former president of the United States to a gay teen anthem.

Look inside, look inside your tiny mind
and look a bit harder
cause we’re so uninspired
so sick and tired
of all the hatred you harbor

so you say it’s not okay to be gay
well I think you’re just evil
you’re just some racist who can’t tie my laces
your point of view is medieval

Fuck you, fuck you very very much
cause we hate what you do
and we hate your whole crew
so please don’t stay in touch

fuck you, fuck you very very much
cause your words don’t translate
and it’s getting quite late
so please don’t stay in touch

do you get, do you get a little kick out of being small-minded?
you want to be like your father
it’s approval you’re after
well that’s not how you’ll find it

do you, do you really enjoy living a life that’s so hateful
cause there’s a hole where your soul should be
you’re losing control of it
and it’s really distasteful

Fuck you, fuck you very very much
cause we hate what you do
and we hate your whole crew
so please don’t stay in touch

Fuck you, fuck you very very much
cause your words don’t translate
and it’s getting quite late
so please don’t stay in touch

Look inside, look inside your tiny mind
and look a bit harder
cause we’re so uninspired
so sick and tired
of all the hatred you harbor

Fuck you, fuck you very very much
cause we hate what you do
and we hate your whole crew
so please don’t stay in touch

Fuck you, fuck you very very much
cause your words don’t translate
and it’s getting quite late
so please don’t stay in touch

the big gay shrug

After yesterday's debacle, it's hard to take comfort in much. Knowing that the court will be seen as being on the wrong side of history is fine and good. Knowing that change is coming is even better.
The big gay shrug: Sorry, enemies of gay marriage. Prop 8 or no, you've already lost
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Here's a fun thing to do to calm your frazzled, saddened nerves in the wake of the CA Supreme Court's very unfortunate, but also merely annoying and karmically fleeting Proposition 8 decision:

Head on down to your local high school -- hell, make it a junior high or even an elementary -- and take yourself an informal survey. Ask the various wary, bepimpled youth of Generation Tweet what they think about those scary gay people getting married.

Ask them, in your most panicky, alarmist, Mormonified voice: Aren't they horrified at the very idea? Aren't they shocked at the very thought of two people in love having their union officially recognized and validated by the state?

Don't they know the musty ol' Bible mutters some barely coherent, mistranslated silliness about it in a single word or two written 1,500 years ago in a long dead language by acidic church elders with powermad political agendas and violently repressed libidos who nevertheless wish to instruct us all how to live and love and screw?

Please note the response. Please observe how the kids merely look at you as though you're more than a little bit deranged and prehistoric, so out of touch you might as well be Dick Cheney talking up the diesel-powered rectal thermometers he so loved back in World War I.

Watch carefully as they sigh and roll their eyes, then whip out their Nokias to text their friends about how this creepy elder just tried to convince them that the harmless, yawningly commonplace homosexuality currently saturating the popular culture all around them, from fashion to Facebook, movies to "American Idol," is not only wrong, but so wrong that the law should ban it forever because... well, no one really seems to know exactly why.

Did you see it? That big, sighing shrug of what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you, combined with lots of who-the-hell-cares? Because that's the reaction to note most of all.

Here is what it tells you: Gay marriage is a foregone conclusion. It's a done deal. It's just a matter of time. For the next generation in particular, equal rights for gays is not even a question or a serious issue, much less a sinful hysterical conundrum that can only be answered by terrified Mormons and confused old people and inane referendums funded by same. It's just obvious, inevitable, a given.

Let us hereby be reminded, before sadness and frustration overwhelm once more: Proposition 8 and its ilk are merely the last, fitful gasps of a long-dying ideology, markers of a certain kind of sad, conservative desperation. They are the final clawings and scrapings of a reactionary worldview that attempts to outlaw and punish all it cannot, will not understand. Same as it ever was, really.

The pattern is as old as fear itself. Remember, only rarely does true progress appear as a single, momentous, Obama-like shift that reverberates across the planet and changes everything in an instant. Most frequently it comes in fits and starts and hiccups, small lurches and hard-fought battles shot through with little spitballs of hate and intolerance and heaps of misunderstanding. You know, just like now.

Evidence? Plenty. Just look at the numbers: Support for gay marriage is now the highest it's been in American history, somewhere between 42 and 48 percent nationwide. Just a few decades ago, support was down in the 20s. It's been rising steadily ever since, never once regressing.

Or, flip that data around. According to FiveThirtyEight, marriage bans like California's are losing support at a rate of about two percent a year. According to that model, more than half of U.S. states will vote against bans like the contemptible Prop 8 as soon as 2012, if not sooner. By 2024, even miserably homophobic joints like Alabama and Mississippi will be flying the rainbow flag.

You could say, then, that we are, right this minute, at the tipping point. You could say that very soon indeed -- sooner than many people expect, in fact -- we will all look back on this inane gay marriage hysteria and wonder, what the hell was that all about? What the hell were we thinking? And by the way, isn't President Obama's second term going just astonishingly well?

As for massive, schizophrenic California, well, what can we say? In our convoluted, lurching, two steps forward eight steps sideways sort of quasi-progressive way, we flail and flip and frequently fail. It's just our way.

We may be a die-hard blue state overall, full of revolutionary ideas and world-class academics, Nobel Laureates and wondrous alternative belief systems, but we are also messy and flat-footed and just too damn big for our own good, and our southern half is packed to the Orange County rafters with piles of aging social conservatives and religious zealots with far too little spiritual/sexual awareness and far too much money. Sorry.

It's an undeniable shame indeed that this powerful, iconic, world-altering state couldn't get its damnable act together on The Last Civil Right. But, you know, oh well. Can't be the vanguard for 'em all. Iowa and Massachusetts, et al, please show us how it's done. And by the way, thank you.

Do not misunderstand: Setbacks like this Prop 8 decision are painful and even cruel, and the gay couples and activists who've been at the forefront of the fight since the beginning are nothing short of heroic. Like civil rights activists of any stripe before them, the subsequent generations who will take gay rights for granted will have them to thank forevermore for paving the way and fighting the good fight.

What's more, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done, new referendums and protests and fundraisers and awareness-raisings. The change will not come without help and push. Hate and homophobia still seethe in myriad pockets of the culture and the populace at large, even trickling down to dumb-blond silicon-injected beauty pageant runner-ups who parrot the same childlike religious misinformation her handlers have pumped into her kind for 2,000 wickedly patriarchal years.

But these setbacks are not insurmountable roadblocks. They are merely obnoxious speed bumps on what social conservatives see as our nation's ungodly highway to hell. They only slow us down a little.

A new campaign in the fight for marriage equality is already taking shape. Evolution is happening, the energy and momentum are unstoppable. Simply put, the ignorance and homophobia that fueled and funded Prop 8 in the first place will not stand.

Don't believe it? Hey, just ask your kids.

i wanna make a supersonic man outta you

This wedding video from the UK left me with an ear-to-ear grin on my face.

Brian & Eileen's Wedding Music Video. from LOCKDOWN projects on Vimeo.

mardi, mai 26, 2009


Taken on May 26, 2008 at the San Diego protest of the California Supreme Court decision to uphold the constitutionality of Prop 8, where 5,000+ people turned out for a 100% peaceful protest.

Bonus points to the UT for interviewing my friends Jim and Dave.
Thousands rally to protest ruling: Demonstrators march to Hall of Justice
By John Wilkens, Union-Tribune Staff Writer
2:00 a.m. May 27, 2009

Chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia's got to go,” thousands of San Diegans marched from Balboa Park to the downtown Hall of Justice last night in support of same-sex marriage.

Many said they were angered by the state Supreme Court's ruling earlier in the day that upheld Proposition 8, but there was no violence. Many said they were sad, but there were no tears.

More than anything, it was a demonstration of resolve. “We will not disappear,” one marcher's sign read.

San Diego police estimated the crowd at 3,500. That included an older woman in a wheelchair, babies in strollers and people of ages in between.

Some people watching from the sidewalk or caught in traffic muttered under their breath as the procession shut down Sixth Avenue from Laurel Street to Broadway, and along Broadway to the courthouse, but no organized counter-rally was seen.

Those who support Proposition 8, the traditional-marriage initiative approved by voters in November, said they saw no cause for open celebration.

“There wasn't an attitude that 'Yeah, we won,' but there was a sense that yes, the vote of the people was upheld,” said the Rev. Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Baptist Church, who watched television coverage of the court's decision. “It does resonate as law, so there was a confirmation in that.”

Last night's march and rally had been planned for months – win or lose they were going to gather – and some were more prepared than others.

“Nobody's really surprised by what the court did,” said David Russell Talbott, a Normal Heights artist who was wearing a T-shirt he designed for the the occasion – one that had yesterday's date, a modified version of the state flag and these words: “California Republic of Shame.”

Talbott was there with his husband, Jim Herrington, who works at a clothing store. They married in August, when it was still legal, after they'd been together for 20 years.

The court ruled that their marriage and about 18,000 other same-sex unions are valid, but that wasn't much solace, Talbott said. “Equal rights should be for everybody.”

Before the march, organizer Sara Beth Brooks urged people to be “100 percent peaceful,” and police reported no problems. It took the crowd about an hour to cover the 20 blocks from the park to the justice hall.

Many of the marchers carried homemade signs: “We Shall Overcome,” “My Marriage Is Not a Threat to Your Jesus,” “Enough.”

Ron Hertz held a sign that read, “My Beautiful Grandson Has 2 Moms.” He was visiting from Oregon and decided to walk alongside his daughter, Jenell Ferhart, her wife, Amy, and their 18-month-old son, Nathan.

“I think it's important to support them,” said Hertz, a longtime teacher.

After the march ended in front of the Hall of Justice, police closed Broadway between Union and State. There, several speakers, including Mayor Jerry Sanders, urged the crowd to keep up the fight.

Among those watching was Janice Sands-Weinstein, a Carmel Valley accountant. She and her wife, Marti, were married in June. They have four children who give new meaning to the term co-parenting: Janice's eggs were harvested and fertilized with a donor's sperm, and Marti carried them to term.

“It's a very hollow victory to feel my marriage is intact,” Sands-Weinstein said. “I'm Jewish, and at Passover we have a saying: 'Not free until everyone is free.' ”

lundi, mai 18, 2009

vendredi, mai 15, 2009

patenting genes

This is ridiculous.
Cancer Patients Challenge the Patenting of a Gene
Published: May 12, 2009

When Genae Girard received a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006, she knew she would be facing medical challenges and high expenses. But she did not expect to run into patent problems.

Genae Girard, 39, is suing Myriad Genetics and the Patent Office over the granting of a patent on a gene. Myriad also has patented the only test that measures the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Ms. Girard took a genetic test to see if her genes also put her at increased risk for ovarian cancer, which might require the removal of her ovaries. The test came back positive, so she wanted a second opinion from another test. But there can be no second opinion. A decision by the government more than 10 years ago allowed a single company, Myriad Genetics, to own the patent on two genes that are closely associated with increased risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and on the testing that measures that risk.

On Tuesday, Ms. Girard, 39, who lives in the Austin, Tex., area, filed a lawsuit against Myriad and the Patent Office, challenging the decision to grant a patent on a gene to Myriad and companies like it. She was joined by four other cancer patients, by professional organizations of pathologists with more than 100,000 members and by several individual pathologists and genetic researchers.

The lawsuit, believed to be the first of its kind, was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and filed in federal court in New York. It blends patent law, medical science, breast cancer activism and an unusual civil liberties argument in ways that could make it a landmark case.

Companies like Myriad, based in Salt Lake City, have argued that the patent system promotes innovation by giving companies the temporary monopoly that rewards their substantial investment in research and development.

Richard Marsh, Myriad’s general counsel, said company officials would not be able to comment on the lawsuit until they had fully reviewed the complaint.

The coalition of plaintiffs argues that gene patents actually restrict the practice of medicine and new research.

“With a sole provider, there’s mediocrity,” said Wendy K. Chung, the director of clinical genetics at Columbia University and a plaintiff in the case.

Dr. Chung and others involved with the suit do not accuse Myriad of being a poor steward of the information concerning the two genes at issue in the suit, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2, but they argue that BRCA testing would improve if market forces were allowed to work.

Harry Ostrer, director of the human genetics program at the New York University School of Medicine and a plaintiff in the case, said that many laboratories could perform the BRCA tests faster than Myriad, and for less money than the more than $3,000 the company charged.

Laboratories like his, he said, could focus on the mysteries still unsolved in gene variants. But if he tried to offer such services today, he said, he would be risking a patent infringement lawsuit from Myriad.

Christopher A. Hansen, senior national staff counsel for the civil liberties union, said the problem was with the patent office, not the company. He recalled that when he first heard that the office had granted a patent for a gene, “I said that can’t be true.”

As the A.C.L.U. explored the restrictions on competition that companies like Myriad had put in place — blocking alternatives to the patented tests, and even the practice of interpreting or comparing gene sequences that involved those genes — the restrictions started to look like not just a question of patent law, Mr. Hansen said, but of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech as well.

“What they have really patented,” he said, “is knowledge.”

A patent was also granted to a single company for genetic testing on long QT syndrome, which can lead to heart arrhythmias and sudden death, and to the HFE gene, linked to hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition in which iron accumulates in the blood and can cause organ damage. Doctors and scientists have complained about both patents.

On the other hand, the company that owns the patent to the gene CFTR, which has been linked to cystic fibrosis, has licensed the testing to dozens of laboratories, drawing praise from the medical world.

The decision to allow gene patents was controversial from the start; patents are normally not granted for products of nature or laws of nature. The companies successfully argued that they had done something that made the genes more than nature’s work: they had isolated and purified the DNA, and thus had patented something they had created — even though it corresponded to the sequence of an actual gene.

The argument may have convinced patent examiners, but it has long been a sore point for many scientists. “You can’t patent my DNA, any more than you can patent my right arm, or patent my blood,” said Jan A. Nowak, president of the Association for Molecular Pathology, a plaintiff in the case.

So far, however, two panels of government experts who have looked at the issue have not found significant impediments to research or medical care caused by gene patents. A 2006 report from the National Research Council found that patented biomedical research “rarely imposes a significant burden for biomedical researchers.”

That report and others, however, warn that the patent landscape “could become considerably more complex and burdensome over time.”

In the future, genetic tests are likely to involve the analysis of many genes at once, or even of a person’s full set of genes. Some 20 percent of the human genome is already included in patent claims, amounting to thousands of individual genes, says a draft report from the National Institutes of Health. The report warns that “it may be difficult for any one developer to obtain all the needed licenses” to develop the next generations of tests.

For Lisbeth Ceriani, a single mother from Newton, Mass., and a plaintiff in the case against Myriad, the biggest obstacle that gene patents present is one of cost. She has had breast cancer and a double mastectomy, but wants to have BRCA testing to determine her risk of ovarian cancer and help her decide whether to have her ovaries removed. But Myriad has refused to work with her insurance plan, Mass Health, and paying for the test herself is beyond her means.

She is reluctant to have surgery that might prove unnecessary, she said, but she also worries about her 8-year-old daughter and the inherited risk she might face. Which is why, Ms. Ceriani said, she wants to “find out if I have the mutation, so I can take the necessary steps to stay on the planet.”

“I want to be here,” she said, “to make sure she does her screening by the time she’s 30.”

re: miss california

"Yes, of course, you have a guaranteed right to freedom of speech. But if someone else paid for your breasts, I really don't care what you have to say. No one does." - P. Frausto

dimanche, mai 03, 2009

the man, the myth, the shoes

Since I just made cake, my mind got to free association. Cake or death? led to Eddie Izzard and this site: cake or death: an eddie izzard site.

For the uninitiated, Eddie Izzard's cerebral stand-up (in English and in French) is pure genius.

A few years ago, he was named number 3 of the 100 Greatest Comedians as part of (BBC) Channel 4's ongoing "100 Greatest..." series. I loved this note, from the bio for Channel 4:
Moved to Northern Ireland when he was about two, then to south Wales in 1967
Started his career as a street performer.
He is partially dyslexic and, of course, sometimes wears frocks.

Eddie Izzard: 'We need Europe to be a melting-pot. We need to melt'
This article is from the (RED) edition of The Independent, guest-edited for 16 May 2006 by Bono. Half the revenue from the edition will be donated to the Global Fund to Fight Aids.
Published: 16 May 2006

The first advice that Simon Kelner gave me about editing this paper was to include some pieces that "reflect your humour". "Why?" I thought. "Don't people know I'm really funny anyway?" Apparently not. Best way to get this done was to bring in the first stadium superstar of comedy, Mr Eddie Izzard. We've worked on a film together, Across the Universe, and I can easily talk to him for a couple of hours. This was one I wanted to do myself. So, here's our conversation. The first draft was 11,000 words; this is the edited highlights. I enjoyed it but I'm not sure it's funny.

BONO: How is Mrs Badcrumble?

EDDIE: Mrs Badcrumble... well, she's good. Were you ever taught by a Mrs Badcrumble?

BONO: Yes, well I know she is sort of your... kind of music teacher/mother of God.

EDDIE: Music teacher/mother of... yes, exactly! Well, there was this thing that if you wanted to learn an instrument you had to do the lessons thing. And the lady who teaches you is beyond the age of comprehension, like 140, and the music you learn isn't sexy, and you play it and no one will shag you.

I learnt non-shagging music. If you play that sort of "Snug as a Bug in a Rug" stuff, with those scales going up and down, no one's going to come near you.

BONO: Maybe I wasn't deprived of a musical education after all.

EDDIE: No, I think you had that "thing"... precisely because you didn't have one.

BONO: Punk rock was like my Mrs Badcrumble.

Eddie: Exactly. Punk rock is Mrs Badcrumble with a fag...

BONO: Mrs Goodcrumble!

EDDIE: Mrs Badcrumble with attitude. An old lady who can kick people in the face and say, "Get out the fucking room, I gotta make a noise now". That's the best teacher.

BONO: That might be true of many things. You know, when resistance becomes the thing that drives you... your engine room or whatever...

EDDIE: There are certain people who, if they say, "I want to do this", and everyone says, "No, you can't do it", they go "OK, I won't". And then there are other people who say, "Right, let's do it". You're very good at it. I try to be good at it.

BONO: I have no embarrassment at all. No shame.

EDDIE: That's the key: being able to take humiliation when people say, "Why are you doing this, you are a fool, you're an idiot". And you carry on through it.

BONO: Yeah, I come from a long line of salespeople on my mother's side, and I see myself as a sort of salesman, so I have no problem ringing the doorbell and asking people to let me in. Until I show them the Tupperware, that is...

EDDIE: It's OK if, in your mind, the Tupperware is useful.

BONO: Didn't you live in Northern Ireland?

EDDIE: Yes, I lived in Bangor until I was five. My dad worked for BP in Belfast, and it was the happiest time of my life. I didn't know the politics.

BONO: That's only five years of happiness.

EDDIE: I know. Actually, it was even less because I was born in Aden, in Yemen. I got to Bangor when I was about two, so it was three years. Going to the Ballyholme Primary School, playing with kids, having a gang. I didn't know about politics at the time, but it was a very Protestant town. I was oblivious to all that. I just had fun. My mum was alive, we had bicycles and we threw mud balls at passing cars. It was great. So I have very fond feelings for Northern Ireland.

Do you remember the "trick or treat" killings in County Londonderry, in the bad times?

BONO: Yeah, it was disgusting.

EDDIE: I was touring Ireland at the time and my tour manager said, "We're not going up there", and I said, "It's fine". And he said, "There could be shooting, and they'll target English people", and I said, "They're not going to target English people, they're fighting themselves, they don't care about us performing idiots". They wouldn't go, so I thought, "Well, I will", drove up on my own and played three nights.

BONO: Fantastic. I wanted to do this interview for a few reasons, and the psychology of the performer is one of them. It's something that's not much written about, and I'm not sure performers themselves know that much about it. I'm interested in the idea that you've no choice but to perform. It's like a twitch really, it sort of just comes on."

EDDIE: The performance thing, I've analysed it. I think the desire to perform has something to do with my mum dying, because I don't remember wanting to perform before that. She died when I was six, and at seven I saw a kid on stage in a play and I thought, I want to do that, and that feeling stayed.

The conclusion I have come to is that the audience is a surrogate affection organism for the loss of my mother's affection. A mother gives unconditional love (some mothers don't, but my mother did), but an audience's love is totally conditional. You have to deliver. Consequently, I believe my desperation to deliver is to get this love out of an audience. That is what kept, and keeps pushing me.

BONO: Ditto to a similar beginning. It's a signature of singers in particular. Maybe it goes back to that line, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child". But Lennon, John Lydon, it just goes on and on.

EDDIE: It can be dysfunctional parents as well.

BONO: I wonder if the audience isn't a mother so much as a father figure. At least, it is for me.

EDDIE: The audience is a father figure to you?

BONO: Yeah... I hope we don't sound, like, too fuckin' run amok on Jung and Freud. As Jim Sheridan would say, "The Muddah, it is all about the Muddah...". The loss of my mother definitely started me singing and writing, but the audience was probably some sort of attempt at my father.

It goes without saying, if we were of completely sound mind and proportion in our thinking, we wouldn't be performers.

EDDIE: That's it. I think Madonna's mum died when she was around six, and Orson Welles lost his mother young.

BONO: It is a performance thing - in hip-hop, it is always the missing father, the lost thing.

EDDIE: If you go into a very dark space, Hitler's father died...

BONO: Great performer.

EDDIE: Not good to start off with, but in the end...

BONO: I loved that one he did, what was it, Czechoslovakia, that was a great one.

EDDIE: Well, his mum died when he was young and he was beaten as a child - him and Stalin and Saddam.

BONO: I wanted to talk to you about the European thing.

EDDIE: It's my thing. The EU is now inviting those countries who've been killing each other for centuries to join Europe. There's a sense of stability and, hopefully, peace. Belarus is the only European country that still has a dictator.

BONO: With a great moustache!

EDDIE: Yes, with a very 1950s thing going on...

BONO: He's got an actual Hitler moustache. I've seen it. Isn't it interesting that you can meet somebody and they seem plausible, but there's one thing that screams madness. And with President Lukashenko, in Belarus, it's the tache. He looks normal, then you go, "Oh, my God, he's got a mad tache, silver hair and a black Hitler tache!".

EDDIE: If he could just go, we'd have no dictators in Europe for the first time ever.

BONO: Your desire for Europe is extraordinary to me, but you've followed through on it. I mean, is this where the languages come in? Did you learn French and German at school?

EDDIE: I learnt French at school but stopped when I was 16. When I first visited France, I'd go into a bar or restaurant and say, "Qu'est-ce que ils?". I'd just keep going with my broken French. My rule was, communication first, grammar second.

BONO: I'm amazed that you can do stand-up in French.

EDDIE: Absolutely. My dream is for Europe to become a huge melting-pot. We need to be a melting-pot. We need to melt. So my doing a gig in French is to kick the melting-pot up. I want to do gigs in German, Russian, Spanish. And Arabic, because I was born in an Arabic country and the 9/11 thing.

BONO: Do you consider yourself European?

EDDIE: I consider myself British-European, like there are African- Americans and Italian- Americans. You can be Irish-European. Whether you're Northern or Southern Irish, there's this umbrella of Europeanness. I think if we can make it work in Europe, it's almost a blueprint for the future of the world. If we can get all these countries, with all their languages, coming together to work in some shape or form, then the whole world can work. And if we can't get it working in Europe, the world has got no chance. Those are the stakes.

BONO: Wow, I hadn't thought of it like that.Now, did you become funny to stop being beaten up?

EDDIE: No, I became funny to get girls, actually.

BONO: It's either one thing or the other, isn't it?

EDDIE: At school, there was one girl for every 20 boys, so it was ridiculous odds, and if you weren't head of a sports team...

BONO: You'd better be funny! I'd like to talk about your material. I presume you write some of it beforehand and make some of it up on the spot.

EDDIE: No, I do it all on the spot. A lot of people write their stuff down and then develop it, but I'm inordinately lazy. I have great difficulty writing things down. In the end, I develop bits of material and then, in between those bits, I take the courage to break off, a bit like a jazz musician saying, "I'm going to go off on a solo here, I haven't got a band, it's just me".

BONO: Oh, I'm envious.

EDDIE: It was all improv once. That's why it feels like I'm making it all up. But I'm not.

BONO:Aren't you writing a show at the moment with somebody? That you're acting in? Collaborating on a TV thing?

EDDIE: Yes, I'm involved in the writing thing. There's a show for FX channel, which does The Shield and Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me in America. Minnie Driver and I play the mother and father of a family of American-Irish travellers, just like travellers in Ireland.

BONO: The story of the travellers is amazing.

EDDIE: Yes, it is. They're descendants of travellers who came over because of the potato famine. Some of them do legitimate business, some go around scamming and grifting.

BONO: To return to your line of business, I saw you invent a whole new genre at the G8 in Scotland, doing that piece of agitprop. I thought, "This is 'Stand-up Stadium'". How do you communicate to such a big crowd? I mean, I'm terrified and I have the security of my band, a guitar, a tune. Watching you, I thought, "Now, this is the top of the food chain...".

Anyhow, thank you very, very much for letting me interrogate you. I'm the biggest of your little fans, or the littlest of your big fans, I don't know which. So, up Bangor, and I guess I'll see you down the road?

EDDIE: Yes, absolutely.


Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath.
-- Michael Caine
Via Diana

5-minute chocolate cake in a mug

We finally made this tonight. It was fun to watch it rise, rise, rise to what seemed an impossibly tall (and unsustainable) height a few inches above the top of the mug and *instantly* drop when the microwave stopped.

This is a great recipe for kids to watch. There are very few crumbs in this cake. It holds together quite well.
4 TBSP flour
4 TBSP sugar
4 TBSP cocoa powder
1 egg, beaten
3 TBSP milk
3 TBSP oil
3 TBSP chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug

  1. Add dry ingredients to mug, and mix well.
  2. Beat the egg in a small bowl, then pour in the milk, oil, and vanilla extract and mix well.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in the mug. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Add the chocolate chips and mix slightly.
  5. Put your mug in the microwave and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts.
The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed!
Allow to cool a little, and tip out onto a plate if desired.
Eat! (This can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous.)

Why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are all only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night!

Via Laura