A Tumor Is No Clearer in Hindsight

Denise Grady in The New York Times:

JobsWas Steve Jobs a smart guy who made a stupid decision when it came to his health?

It might seem so, from the broad outlines of what he did in 2003 when a CT scan and other tests found a cancerous tumor in his pancreas. Doctors urged him to have an operation to remove the tumor, but Mr. Jobs put it off and instead tried a vegan diet, juices, herbs, acupuncture and other alternative remedies. Nine months later, the tumor had grown. Only then did he agree to surgery, during which his doctors found that the cancer had spread to his liver, according to the new biography by Walter Isaacson. Cancer eventually killed him. The sequence of events has given rise to news articles and blogs based on 20/20 hindsight, speculating that if only Mr. Jobs had had the surgery right away, doctors could have caught the cancer early, before it spread, and saved him. But there is no way in this life to know what might have been — not in politics, baseball, romance or the stock market, and certainly not in sickness and health. Mr. Jobs’s wish to avoid or delay surgery was not unusual. And given the type of tumor he had and the way it was found, his decision to wait may not have been as ill considered as it seems at first blush. His wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, declined requests for an interview and for permission to speak to Mr. Jobs’s doctors. But she did allow one of them to comment briefly: Dr. Dean Ornish, a friend of Mr. Jobs who is also a well-known advocate for using diet and lifestyle changes to treat and prevent heart disease.

Dr. Ornish said that when the diagnosis was first made, he advised Mr. Jobs to have the surgery. But in an e-mail message, he added: “Steve was a very thoughtful person. In deciding whether or not to have major surgery, and when, he spent a few months consulting with a number of physicians and scientists worldwide as well as his team of superb physicians. It was his decision to do this.

More here.

Please welcome Megavirus, the world’s most ginormous virus

Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:

MegavirusThere are many weird viruses on this planet, but none weirder–in a fundamentally important way–than a group known as the giant viruses.

For years, they were hiding in plain sight. They were so big–about a hundred times bigger than typical viruses–that scientists mistook them for bacteria. But a close look revealed that they infected amoebae and built new copies of themselves, as all viruses do. And yet, as I point out in A Planet of Viruses, giant viruses certainly straddle the boundary between viruses and cellular life. Flu viruses may only have ten genes, but giant viruses may have 1,000 or more. When giant viruses invade a host cell, they don’t burst open like other viruses, so that their genes and proteins can disperse to do their different jobs. Instead, they assemble into a “virus factory” that sucks in building blocks and spits out large pieces of future giant viruses. Giant viruses even get infected with their own viruses. People often ask me if I think viruses are alive. If giant viruses aren’t alive, they sure are close.

Ever since giant viruses were first unveiled seven years ago, scientists have argued about the origins of these not-so-wee beasties. Many of their genes are different from those found in cellular life forms, or even other viruses. It’s possible that giant viruses amassed their enormous genetic armamentarium over billions of years, picking up genes from long-extinct host or swapping them with other viruses we have yet to find. Other scientists have suggested that giant viruses started out giant–or even bigger than they are today. Some have even argued that they represent a new domain of life, although others aren’t so sure.

More here.

A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs

Mona Simpson in the New York Times:

Simpson_01_bodyI grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel. I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild. This was 1985 and we worked at a cutting-edge literary magazine, but I’d fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel and really, we all loved those best. The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool. The leading candidate: John Travolta. I secretly hoped for a literary descendant of Henry James — someone more talented than I, someone brilliant without even trying.

When I met Steve, he was a guy my age in jeans, Arab- or Jewish-looking and handsomer than Omar Sharif.

More here.

Occupy Wall Street: What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say?

Charles J. Shields in Writing Kurt Vonnegut:

ScreenHunter_01 Nov. 01 10.20Kurt, after all, made the national news for the first time in his life by speaking against nuclear weapons at a Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1969. He later added his name to a letter of protest from PEN, the writer’s organization, condemning the expulsion of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn from the Soviet writer’s union. And in 1973, he participated in a six-hour vigil of prayer, music, and readings at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York intended to focus on the “responsibility of Americans to heal the wounds of war.” For the rest of his life, he continued to apply the sting of his aphoristic remarks to crimes and indecencies as he saw them. Now and then, you see a bumper sticker with his quote, “We could have saved the Earth, but we were too damned cheap.”

So would he have joined elder statesmen of protest and civil disobedience such as Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthie who went down to Zuccotti Park recently?

If he did, I suspect he would have felt some pangs of conscience. Because you see, Kurt was a fat cat himself. His life, his career, and his beliefs put him squarely in the moral paradox that most of us find ourselves in: we believe in the tenets of freedom, capitalism, and free enterprise… except when we don’t.

More here.