tom thinks

date 2001-02-06:18:25
Writing Sometime soon I'm going to start writing something substantial about abortion. It's a topic that's very close to my heart, and as the debate surrounding it doesn't seem to want to go away, I need to put my oar in.

It's a hard topic to write about, because I'm not writing from an abstract perspective.
SelfConciousness Ok, I can't resist asking: does anyone actually read this journal?

A terrible thing to ask, I know. I write for myself, but I've been aware lately of the changing relationship, in my own mind, to my hypothetical audience. Part of the reason for writing this is to learn to write without caring what other people think, to learn to write what I want to write, as I want to write it. I'm learning that, slowly, and I'm curious to know if anyone besides Jaffo, Ted and Carolyn are reading this.

So if you are, particularly if I've never heard of you, why not e-mail me?
Humans Men are basically insecure. Given that historically most of them have been brought up to be cannon-fodder, this shouldn't be a huge surprise.

Their insecurity manifests itself in lots of ways, but defensiveness is a big one. One of the most important tests for security is how a man responds to someone better than he is in some respect. Does he try to learn from the person? Does he resent the person? Does he try to live as though the person doesn't exist? Does he admire the person's strengths and remind himself reassuringly of their weaknesses, while never forgetting that he has a both himself?

I had lunch with a friend today who is about to leave an organization I used to work for. I knew when she was hired that she wouldn't have an easy go of it, and told her that, particularly as I didn't expect to be there that much longer. But I figured she could take care of herself, and she did.

She told me a story about a person who had been interviewed recently, a developer who has some background in the industry that is a major customer of this company's products. The person was female, non-white, very personable and clearly very capable. My prediction is that the company won't offer her a job--it's run by very insecure men, and the thought that they might be challenged by someone who is, in their view, fundamentally inferior, would be too much to take.

A millitant feminist would probably take this as being an example of the destructive power of male dominance, and get worked up in a rage against the men involved. I think this response is a bit like beating a mentally ill person for not being healthy.

Yes, these guys are wrong. Their opinions, attitudes and beliefs are revolting. But they aren't powerful--they're pathetic. The company they run won't ever amount to much, in no small part because they can't retain good people, even if they manage to hire them in the first place.

So the appropriate response to them is twofold: support the people they've hurt with their childish insecurity, and show them you think they're pitiful. They aren't worth your rage, and it just makes their defensiveness and insecurity worse.

But it's important, in dealing with men, to be able to diagnose how secure they are--insecure men, however pathetic, are dangerous. I think most of the evil that gets set at the feet of men comes down to this, and while I don't condone any of the damage they do, I think that most of them need help, not hatred.
Biology Anti-biotic resistant bacteria caused a scare at a local hospital recently. What may be the first case of haemoragic fever--the Ebola virus--in North America has been reported by a hospital in Hamilton, where a person recently returned from the Congo may have it. And I'm not feeling so hot myself.

There's a lot to say about biology, and I'll preface this by saying I'm not a biologist, although Jan has a B.Sc. in the subject and used to work in research, so I've drunk a lot of beer with biologists over the years. But these are all unprofessional opinions, provided for entertainment purposes only.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria are something that scares people, and that's reasonable up to a point. When I'm hospitalized (and if I live long enough, I will be, eventually) I'll be worried about it. But currently antibiotic resistant bacteria, hereafter know as ARBs, don't seem to be much of a threat to people who aren't in pretty bad immunological shape anyway. The places where they thrive are hospitals and prisons, not in the population at large.

Is this necessarily so? Will we see the day come when a virulent bug appears that's also antibiotic resistant? And if that happens, will we return to the days of the great plauges? The plague in the 1300's killed something like a third of the population of Europe and essentially destroyed Medieval society. And we are even now nominally in the midst of the third plague pandemic, which started in Asia in the 1850's.

There are two reasons why it's unlikely that we will face such a crisis from resurgent bacteria. The first is that most of the gains in public health we've seen in the last 200 years haven't come from doctors, but from engineers. Engineers have saved more lives than doctors, and not by a small fraction. Massive spending by governments in the 1800s built a huge public health infrastructure in North America and Europe, mostly consisting of water supplies and sewers and sewage treatment systems. Once we were no longer living up to our necks in our own shit, the quality and quantity of human life improved dramatically.

The second reason why I'm not too worried about ARBs is more interesting. People who rant about ARBs often give the impression that they think human beings have willfully engaged in a game of chicken with nature by daring to use something so unnatural as antibiotics. But antibiotics have been around for certainly millions, possibly hundreds of millions and quite conceivably billions of years. Penecillin was originally purified from mold, which produced the substance to protect itself against bacteria.

Molds have apparently been dumping tons of antibiotics into the environment in a totally uncontrolled manner, without FDA approval or anything, for millions of years. It would seem likely that if bacteria had the biochemical resources to beat antibiotics without reducing their infectious power dramatically, they would have done it by now.

It's true that bacteria that prefer humans have probably not been quite so strongly selected for antibiotic resistance as some others. But it's also true that as antibiotic resistance increases, virulence--infectious ability--decreases pretty dramatically. So we could get an ARB plague, and it could kill a lot of people, but the odds are good that it'll be a pale shadow of the plagues that have gone before.

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