Saturday, December 03, 2005

Big Nate and me

I occasionally catch up with a comic strip called Big Nate. There's been a theme about trivia lately and, while I thought of the Babe when I read it, she pointed out that, no, this was all me. I think she's right.



Wednesday, November 30, 2005

BC is doing better

BC spent much of the night sleeping on me. He didn't sound like he was perfect, but he sounded much better and his breathing wasn't so ragged. This morning, he was still asleep on me and his breathing is almost normal. Looks like he's stable right for the moment. He's also got an appetite and is drinking. No lab results yet.

So far, so good.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thanksgiving weekend

We drove up to Tacoma for the holiday. We got on the road Thursday morning around 10am and headed north. Dinner was at Karen & Russ's at 4:00 and we made it in plenty of time. We were joined by other family members and a couple of guests, including a chap named Leo, a reservist who was shipping out to Baghdad the following evening. His wife wasn't able to join him and us for the evening, as she was stuck in Yakima, but we made him welcome for the evening. The food was great. We had a turkey and a ham, lots of stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and Karen and Andy made a stellar gravy. Among many other things to recommend this family is the fact that they're good cooks.

The Babe and I had lunch with her stepchildren, Lori and Jace, and Jace's fiancé, Steph, at a new restaurant in Tacoma called Joeseppe's. Lori just got married a few weeks ago to a young man she's known most of her life named Phillip. Phillip's a Marine sniper and is back in Fallujah for another 8 months.

After lunch, we stopped in at Jace & Steph's house, which is a nice little starter home. Their dogs (don't know what types) are pretty well behaved and rather attractive. We did the family photos thing, so here are a few shots of us in various assemblages:

Friday evening, we had a "let's eat the leftovers!" dinner at Karen & Russ's place. There wasn't quite enough gravy left over (alas!), but there was plenty of everything else and lots of family. (Like I say, I'm very fond of the Babe's family.) After dinner, we played a fun card game called "99" for a while. It's relatively simple and it has a lot of the feel of playing Uno, for simplicity of the rules, for the speed of the game, and the sheer pleasure at screwing yer neighbor with a devious card throw. mwahahahahahahaaaaaaaa!

Saturday, we stopped in on Barb & Dan (still more family). Barb & Dan hadn't been able to make the Thanksgiving or the leftover dinner and we didn't want to take a trip up without seeing them, too. Dan showed me the wood shop he's building. I am drooling with envy! It'll have everything. One of their dogs, Baron, a 90lb German Shepherd who is thankfully pretty well-behaved, came outside with us when we tromped out towards the shop. I saw Baron bound across the yard and pick up an old tire in his mouth and then shake it. I half-expected chunks of rubber to come out of the sidewall when he did it. Baron is clearly a dog that You Do Not Mess With, at least more than once.

After a lovely visit, we drove out to the peninsula to see JA & Tames. We caught up on this and that, I walked around with JA while he fed the sheep (much larger flock of sheep than had been there the last time I was there) and the horses, who are always nice to see. JA & Tames had repainted everything since last I was there and the inside of the house is glowing. We had a very warming dinner and then drove over to Peg & Dan's place.

Peg and Dan (and the one daughter still at home) live in a 6400sqft house they built on the peninsula on the water. The house feels rich, comfortable, and scrumptious. There's woodwork everywhere, all mahogany (Peg said that there are 38,000 board feet of mahogany in the house). One of the nice things is there's not a single hollow-core door in the place. All the doors are solid, heavy, and very attractive... well, assuming you like polished mahogany, which I sure do.

Dan's a Puget Sound pilot, a fascinating job that can drag him off at all hours at times to pilot a ship in or out of port. Peg's a counselor in private practice in the city. They're very nice people.


Apart from the sheer pleasure of spending time with them, Dan loves playing the piano and singing songs and show tunes from the first part of the 20th century. Both JA and the Babe love singing songs like that. So do I, but I'm not a patch on them, so I usually sit back and admire.

Tames and Peg don't sing, so they always form the Admiring Throng.

Listening to the three of them go at it is a wonderful way to spend the evening.

I have a fondness for this kind of music, too, so listening to it is no hardship. And, as I'm fond of observing, the Babe has a great set o' pipes.

The three of them sang for several hours. Heckuva deal!

We finally had to bid goodbye, as we still needed to drive back to Tacoma that evening and get up at a reasonable hour the next day, but we could've stayed far later under other circumstances. It's always fun to really belt out the old favorites.

Sunday, the Babe and I had divergent activities. She had a friends-and-family obligation for the day, while I had a date with Brian and his pair of tickets to the Seahawks-Giants game. Brian and Fong (and Raymond the wonderchild) picked me up in Tacoma on their way home from Portland, so the Babe had the car. We drove to their place, offloaded some gear, and drove up to the International District in Seattle for lunch. We did a lot of really tasty dim sum (a pleasure I haven't had in far too long), after which Fong dropped us off at the stadium. We'd missed the kickoff and just as we were arriving, the Seahawks had intercepted a pass and gotten a touchdown. The crowd was about ready to eat a bleacher in their excitement. The rest of the game was good, but we were really worried that the Seahawks--who've had a great season--were going to dribble away a good lead. They almost did, actually: in the 4th quarter, the NY Giants scored a touchdown and then a 2-point conversion to tie the game 21-21. With 4 seconds to go in the 4th quarter and no chance of recovery, the NY Giants got up to field goal length and kicked a field goal to win the game... and it would've if it hadn't gone outside the goal post by about a yard.

Well, the crowd just exploded at that point. The Seahawks had a chance to win in a sudden-death overtime. The OT quarter started and the Seahawks just weren't pushing hard enough. The Giants got another crack at a field goal... which they missed. Boy howdy, we dodged another bullet! The Seahawks ultimately had to cede the ball to the Giants again, who were playing great offense that day, and they got it close enough for a good field goal at last! Unfortunately, the kicker was clearly having an off day, because he blew this field goal, too. The Seahawks finally realized they were going to have to stop messing around, so they pushed the ball up the field, got it to field goal length, and got it through the goalposts without problem. Amazing game, although, as Brian said, the Seahawks only won because they failed to lose.

We rode home on the Seattle Sounder. Brian got off at Tukwila and I rode it to Freighthouse Square in Tacoma. The Babe, bless her, had packed up our stuff and thrown it into the car and we drove home straight from there. It was about 6pm when we left (the game had run late, after all) so it was 11:30 or so when we got home.

And once again, there was the pleasure of sleeping in our own bed again.


BC is home for the night

Mr. Reginald Biscotti has returned home from the vet. They tapped his chest and drained about 13cc of fluid today, but they still don't know why his chest is full of fluid. The vet has cultured some of this stuff and is sending it out to find out what is going on. She did allow that there's a small chance that (a) BC's heart is not enlarged, but that the fluid in his chest cast a shadow that suggested that was the case and that (b) the sole cause of the fluid may be bacterial. If this is true, we may be able to successfully treat him with antibiotics and Lasix and keep him alive afterwards. This is a really tall hope, but I'm going to work as if this is possible.

On the other hand, BC is very likely to not make it much longer: having his chest fill with fluid puts a huge strain on everything and eventually he won't be able to get enough oxygen and will drift off, actually rather peacefully the vet said. (That was one thing I really wanted to know, if he'd be in any significant discomfort this way. Nope, probably not, she said; while it would be some work to breathe and he'd be a little uncomfortable, he'd ultimately become hypoxic and become euphoric--like any other drowning victim, she said--and drift off blissfully. Well, uh, okay.) I'm still really unhappy and angry that he's so sick, though.

Willow is getting thinner still and was talking to me today, which is a trifle unusual, so I think her time may be getting close. I've been watching her closely ever since her diagnosis for significant behavior changes or signs of distress.


A guest appearance

In one of those delightful bits of synchronicity, I just got this this morning from an old friend of mine, Gus diZerega. Gus is a man of diverse and wonderful talents. He's currently a visiting professor of Government at St. Lawrence University. He does amazing calligraphy and pen-and-ink artwork. (I still have some of the stationery he used to make and sell years and years ago.) He's fun. Gus sent me the following piece, which you are welcome to copy in its entirety and reproduce far and wide.

Intelligence and the Nature of the Designer
Copyright 2005 by Gus diZerega

Intelligent Design (ID) theory has been attacked as unscientific, offering a false alternative to evolution. I think this criticism is mistaken. ID is a theory with genuine scientific content.

Most scientists agree that to be considered a scientific hypothesis, a theory must be testable. If a theory can never be rebutted, it is not scientific. Advocates of ID claim life's extraordinary complexity, and its creatures' fine-tuning to their environment is evidence of deliberate intent. So, one way to evaluate the argument is to look for evidence of flawed design.

At first glance, the evidence looks pretty bad for ID theory. Consider the human back, the source of so much pain and suffering for so many people. Backbones apparently work well enough for four legged animals, but perform more poorly for us two-leggeds. One might imagine a competent designer would have done a better job.

Anyone noticing their cat or dog can drink and breathe at the same time might be forgiven a moment of envy, because we cannot. Cats and dogs never need the Heimlich maneuver. Sometimes we do. Again, this seems a case of flawed design.

The arcuate cruciate ligament in our knees is enables us to walk upright. Unfortunately, its positioning also makes it very susceptible to damage. Four-leggeds do not have this problem. Might better design have relieved us of it?

Every human eye has a blind spot, caused by a nerve that goes through the retina. No good audio-visual designer would design equipment with this feature. Why might an intelligent designer have done so?

The 'circle of willis' is a circle of arteries and veins surrounding the brain stem. As it regulates the blood that nourishes our brains, it is extremely important for our well-being. It is also very susceptible to failing under high blood pressure, leading to strokes. These veins are among the thinnest in the human body whereas a good designer would presumably have made them thicker and therefore less likely to burst.

Women give birth through the pelvis, a barrier that has caused the deaths of many women and infants. The design solution seems obvious: make pelvises wider. Alternatively, locate the birth canal elsewhere or enable women to lay eggs, or give them pouches like marsupials, so very tiny babies can grow larger safely.

Then, there is the male prostate gland, which is wrapped around the urethra. As men age it is prone to enlarging, making it difficult, painful, and sometimes impossible to pee. A good designer might have been expected to make it lie along side the urethra.

This list could be lengthened considerably. We have wisdom teeth when it seems wisdom would have eliminated the teeth. The appendix seems something largely unnecessary except occasionally to get inflamed, burst, and kill us.

These signs of bad design challenge ID theory, but they hardly rebut it. They only rebut the argument that the designer is omnipotent, omniscient, and good; characteristics the ID hypothesis need not posit. At least one of these traits has to be lacking, but a designer might still exist. The theory needs refining. Such a designer might instead be sadistic, incompetent, or lazy. Based on Genesis, we might choose laziness, or at least exhaustion, because that account claims we were made the sixth day and God needed to rest the seventh. Omnipotence can definitely be eliminated as a characteristic of the designer. But Genesis is not scientific, so let's stick with the physical evidence.

Like an archeologist exploring the ruins of an unknown people, using the styles and designs of their artifacts to deduce their interests and skills, we can tell a great deal from looking at what is well designed in us. One characteristic stands out prominently, giving us an important clue to the nature of a hypothetical designer: our sexuality. No other mammalian life form is so focused on sex, nor do any others have so many nerve endings so arranged that sexual activity is their source of greatest physical pleasure.

This evidence is powerful, but perhaps a bit disturbing. Our hypothetical Designer appears more interested in our sex lives than in our eating, breathing, drinking, walking, or other activities necessary for our existence.

If ID is true, we can now offer an educated hypothesis as to why we were designed: to produce pornography. Why else the unusual characteristics we have as humans, characteristics no other species needs to reproduce. A scientific theory of intelligent design offers powerful evidence that High Hefner may be closer to serving the will of his Creator than either Jesus or Buddha, who apparently practiced celibacy.

The most likely alternative to this hypothesis is evolution.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Follow-up on BC

The vet phoned about 9:30 tonight and said that the Lasix was working and that BC was breathing better. We still don't know what's caused all of this--the lab failed to pick things up, darnit!--but he's more comfortable. The problem is that, even if we get all the fluid out of his chest and there are no other problems (like his kidneys) causing this, his heart is still substantially enlarged. The vet would not be at all surprised if he doesn't just drift off peacefully tonight in his sleep. Hell. :( I don't want my little guy dying alone without me there to hold him. :( :(


Willow & BC, redux

We went off to Tacoma for Thanksgiving with the Babe's family (about which I'll write more later). We checked Willow into the vet so that they could keep an eye on her. I didn't want her suddenly taking a bad turn while we were gone and having to have Susan take care of her or worse. The rest of the cats stayed home.

We got back very late Sunday night. It was a little odd not having Willow around the house, but all the rest of the cats were happy to see me. But BC sounded like hell: he was gasping for breath and his purr was clearly labored (lots of gasping) and very ragged. He looked bad, too; I think he wasn't getting a lot of sleep because he was having so much trouble breathing.

BC has had bronchial asthma since birth and periodically has flare-ups, but this was a little odd: the normal treatment for bronchial asthma is that I take him in and get him a steroid shot, which calms things down for 6 months or so. Problem was, I'd done this on Wednesday; I shouldn't have to do this again. Something was wrong. I had them look at him today when I went to pick up Willow.

Something is wrong. X-rays show that BC's chest is full of fluid and his lungs are compressed. Worse, he's got an enlarged heart, either from the fluid and the gasping or because his kidneys are shutting down and the heart's really having to push hard. Either way, it's Not Good. The vet (who was very sympathetic) said that we should send out for blood work for more information, stat, and that I ought to leave him there overnight for treatment with Lasix and ACE inhibitors to help clear the fluid. If this works, we may be able to keep treating him with these and keep him alive indefinitely, assuming his kidneys haven't gone south already. Just out of curiosity, I said, what would be his prognosis if we didn't treat him at all, not that I had any intention of not treating him? The vet said that he might well not make it through the night.

Oh, dear. :(

I left BC overnight with the vet. She's going to see if she can't treat the symptoms and get his chest emptied out and reduce the strain on his heart, but I don't think it's going to be good news no matter what.

Damnit, damnit, damnit. :( :( :(

Willow's still perky and affectionate (and is apparently very popular with the veterinary staff because she's such a little princess), but the tumor on her rib cage is about as big as her rib cage, so we're running out of time rapidly.

I really had hoped that I'd have BC around for a while after Willow was gone, but now I don't know if either of them are going to be here in a week.



Thoughts on personal process

I've been doing a lot of participation in a
very interesting blog recently. The blog is entitled Transformation: Evangelical to the Unknown and it's by Tim Justice. Tim lives in Alabama, he's 39, married, four kids, and is an instructor in management and economics. He describes his blog as "A somewhat introspective journey into the thoughts of a wanderer, as he discards the traditional garments of the 'evangelical' church and seeks a more realistic and honest faith."

At the risk of oversimplifying, Tim is going through a crisis of faith, although "personal growth" might be a better description. Tim is having some differences with the standard evangelical Christian viewpoint and is finding his way to a place in Christian evangelicism that (my opinion/interpretation here) is more inclusive and... well, Christian in its views. He's an articulate person who is looking at things seriously. It's good reading.

How I found Tim's blog is that I happened to be casually looking for references to Reed College in this blog domain and his blog was one of the ones that popped up. I got very interested in what he was saying and added some feedback. (Those of you who know me will appreciate it when I say I have been making every effort to be very respectful. Tim is not the run-of-the-mill evangelical: he can think, he can write, and he is honestly interested in being a better person as manifested through his life and his religion.)

Apparently, I have been successful in not being an ass (again, those of you know that know me should be impressed). Tim's blog entry today had this incredibly flattering comment about me:
John is 80% of what I want to be, although I prefer the Christian route. He knows more about Christianity than most Christians, and practices more Christianity than most Christians. It ought to be interesting...

I'm honored by this.

One of the things that I've been doing as part of this is thinking about what I believe and how I think people should approach their religion. Having been a priest for lo! these many moons--almost three decades at this point--I tend to think that people should learn a lot about what they're worshipping and why it's important to them. (Conversely, if you have no idea who/what you're worshipping, why should you expect your prayers to get answered in the way in which you expect or even at all?) This applies across the board: everyone should know more about their religion's history so they don't get suckered by additions that just got tacked on. Why tolerate one mistranslation of your holy book when you might get closer to the original with another? I've enjoying the opportunity to contribute to someone's spiritual growth and in turn get a better understanding of evangelical Christians from someone who is closely connected to them.

If you're interested in the general discussion, go take a look and offer your comments. Please be respectful; Tim strikes me as the kind of evangelical the world needs more of.