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Wed Jun 26, 2013 at 10:04 AM PDT

Heroism and Politics

by Serpents Choice

I haven't been around very much of late. The Daily Kos community helped me a great deal as I dealt with my fiancee's illness and death earlier this year, but since then, I'd let myself disconnect a bit.

The events of the two days seemed a good reason to reconnect, and to do so with the primary purpose of this site: politics. I don't live in Texas anymore, but I grew up there. Yesterday, even while the Supreme Court was rolling back the clock on the VRA, we saw what happens when politics and heroism intersect.

Below the squiggly thingy, I want to provide a short introduction to several of those heroes, and comment on what lesson we all need to take home from what we've seen over the last two days.

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Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 10:30 AM PDT

She was 36

by Serpents Choice

She's the cute one, obviously. I feel like I should be using a picture after her hair grew back, but this was always one of her favorites regardless.
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Well, I've known for a long time now that I'd be eventually posting some bad news. As many of you know, my fiancee is terminally ill, with liver failure caused by metastatic breast cancer. The nearly year and a half we've had together has been wonderful, and my love for her will far outlast her upcoming death.

Upcoming. Because, you see, this is a diary about bad news related to this situation. But it's not about her death.

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It hasn't been a good day for DOMA in oral arguments. Which means it has been a good day for the rest of us.

Justice Kagan slapped the law around pretty thoroughly, reading from a House of Representative report that flatly came out and said the law was intended "to express moral disapproval of homosexuality." [Republicans everwhere: Um guys, I don't think we're supposed to write that stuff down...]

So she asked Clement, defending the law, if there was any rational basis for the law. What followed should have been one of the best-prepared answers for Team Anti-Equality, because that was the single question most certain to get asked in oral arguments about DOMA. It should have been the best they have.

Clement's answer was hilarious.

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Fri Mar 22, 2013 at 09:44 PM PDT

My fiancee, now in hospice

by Serpents Choice

This has not been a good week.  I can't say I expected a good week.  Not quite 10 days ago, I posted my last update about my fiancee's battle with cancer-induced liver disease. Folks who have been reading these along with me know it was ... not good news.

But tonight, I've got ... well, I can't say it's good news.  But it was a good day.  And I'm reminded, as I always am, of what an amazingly determined woman she is.  Of the fire and passion that lights her eyes.  Of how I fell in love with a terminal cancer patient in the first place.

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I've never been the regular diarist I wanted to be. But, when I've had the opportunity to write here, I've always wanted it to be about science and science education. I've done a little. I should have done more. Maybe, someday, I will again.

But lately, I've been writing about a wonderful woman and her battle with terminal cancer. It's been a little while since my last such update. I'd been holding off writing something grim because even if the last chapter of her life's story was fated long ago, there was some legitimate hope that we weren't that near the end of the book.

But we are. This is her last chapter, and while we're not quite to the final page yet, it cannot be so very far away.

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I've got a number of friends in the casino business. Ask them about the odds and they'll tell you the same thing. Sometime you can come out ahead. Sometimes you can even win the big payout. But, eventually, the house always wins.

As I've written previously over the past few weeks, I've had the honor of a wonderful relationship with a wonderful woman for almost a year and a half. That relationship began with the knowledge that she was on borrowed time, two years into a diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer.  But on the whole, her health has been good. She's faced some pretty awful odds before, and come out a winner every time.  Recently, though, her condition took a pretty unpleasant turn.

Every day we've had together has been worth it. Ten days ago, on the 15th, she accepted my proposal. Tonight's update isn't quite such good news.

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Sat Feb 16, 2013 at 12:46 PM PST

Mixed family health news

by Serpents Choice

A couple days ago I took my turn in the family health hotseat, and was humbled by the outpouring of support, the attention of Community Spotlight, and a brief visit to the reclist.

I'd like to let everyone know where things stand. It's sort of a mixed bag.

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I'm certainly not a very active Kossack.  My passions are with science, and language, and history, and ... some more science, not so much with politics.  But in the world we find ourselves in, being passionate about those things requires an engagement with politics, or else we won't have them anymore.  With that in mind, I've started, over my tenure here, a number of diary series.  One on animal and plant disease, one dissection of a particularly bad piece of anti-nuclear propaganda disguised as science, and a guide on how to read science articles for the lay reader that ... oh, I guess I never started that one.

At one point, I had no real excuse for not contributing more.  But for almost the past year and a half, much of my attention has been focused on a friend of mine, who then became the woman I love.  And now I get to write one of those diaries about her current situation, in the hopes that it's cathartic.

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I've been promising for a long, long time to write a series of diaries here about how lay readers can read, evaluate, and even understand peer-reviewed science papers and third-party articles about them, even when they lack a background in the field in question.  Unfortunately, real life has been doing the sorts of unpleasant things that real life does, and I haven't accomplished that.  Or much of anything else here except drive-by commenting when I have a moment.

I still don't have that diary series started.  But here, I'll continue the process of taking apart a really bad (pdf link) bit of science writing that was used as justification for extraordinary claims in a discuss a few days ago -- and sadly has more than a little currency in certain dimly-lit corners of the wider internet.

Many of the things that are wrong with this paper are wrong with the sorts of peer-reviewed papers used to by climate change denialists, the anti-vaccine movement, and no shortage of sham medical claims.  Below the swirly thingy, we'll take a break from reading the paper itself, and talk about how to use the last diary's three big questions.

Part I looked at the publisher, author, and the organization they are involved with.
Part II identified the three big questions a reader should ask about any science paper.

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I've been promising for a long, long time to write a series of diaries here about how lay readers can read, evaluate, and even understand peer-reviewed science papers and third-party articles about them, even when they lack a background in the field in question.  Unfortunately, real life has been doing the sorts of unpleasant things that real life does, and I haven't accomplished that.  Or much of anything else here except drive-by commenting when I have a moment.

I still don't have that diary series started.  But here, I'll continue the process of taking apart a really bad (pdf link) bit of science writing that was used as justification for extraordinary claims in a discuss a few days ago.

Many of the things that are wrong with this paper are wrong with the sorts of peer-reviewed papers used to by climate change denialists, the anti-vaccine movement, and no shortage of sham medical claims.  Below the swirly thingy, we'll actually start looking past the title page.

Part I of this series looked at the paper's publisher, it's authors, and the organization they are all involved with.

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I've been promising for a long, long time to write a series of diaries here about how lay readers can read, evaluate, and even understand peer-reviewed science papers and third-party articles about them, even when they lack a background in the field in question.  Unfortunately, real life has been doing the sorts of unpleasant things that real life does, and I haven't accomplished that.  Or much of anything else here except drive-by commenting when I have a moment.

I still don't have that diary series started.  But here's something to tide you all over: an exploration into a really bad piece of science literature.  In fact, it's such a bad piece of science literature, it's going to take me more than one diary to disassemble it for you!

Where'd it come from?  I've been involved in a running dialogue/discussion/argument in the comments of a days-old diary.  I'm not going to point to it, because I don't want to call out the commenter with whom I've been interacting.  If you've got to know, it's not rocket science to find it.  The important thing is that the commenter was making a claim about the health effects of really, really small amounts (on the order of picograms) of the radioactive isotope cesium-137.  I considered those to be extraordinary claims and demanded a reference for them.

I got this (pdf link).  It's one of the worst papers I've seen in a long time that wasn't about something that couldn't automatically be branded as hoakum.  And now, you get to explore it with me!

Below the swirly thingy, we'll get started with a quick skim of the paper for a general impression and then get into the swing of things ... with the title page.

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