Kevin Drum

I Have Great Lungs

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 8:13 PM EDT

In addition to the whole multiple myeloma thing, regular readers may recall that about a year ago I suddenly developed breathing difficulties. Things have improved since then, but I still have regular spells of shortness of breath. In fact, I'm going through one right now, which is likely contributing to all my other woes.

I mention this because today was the last of my pre-stem-cell-transplant workups, which happened to be a lung test. And just as always, I passed with flying colors. It even included a blood draw directly from an artery, which confirmed that my hemoglobin count is outstanding and the oxygen content of the blood in my extremities is normal or even a little above normal. And my lung volume? Better than 100 percent, whatever that means.

So the mystery continues. My lungs are getting plenty of air; they're producing plenty of oxygen; my heart is pumping perfectly; and the oxygen content of my blood is just peachy. Almost by definition, it sounds like there can't be anything wrong. Except that there is. Go figure.

In any case, all my tests are complete, and as far as I know there were no red flags. Next Wednesday I spend the day at City of Hope getting oriented. On Friday I get a nice big bonus round of chemotherapy, after which I spend a week injecting myself with a drug that stimulates white cell production. Then I get a Hickman port installed in my shoulder. Following that, I spend three or four days at City of Hope, where they draw blood through the port, centrifuge it, keep the stem cells, and send the rest back. When they have enough stem cells, they process and freeze them and send me home for a week of rest.

Then comes the stem cell transplant itself. I get a gigantic blast of chemotherapy that kills everything in its path—which includes all the remaining cancerous cells in my bone marrow but also all my non-cancerous plasma stem cells. That would kill me too, so the next day they unfreeze my stem cells and pump them into my body. Then I spend several weeks recuperating.

That's the short version. More later. Despite everything, it appears that all systems are go.

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"Arming Our Allies" a Fiasco Yet Again in Yemen

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 2:38 PM EDT

No surprise here:

The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seized by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda, according to U.S. officials.

....“We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” said a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"Arming our allies" works sometimes, but just as often it ends up like this. If we'd done this in Syria two years ago, those arms would most likely be in the hands of ISIS or Iranian militias by now.

There just aren't very many good middle grounds between staying out of a fight and getting fully engaged in it. Iraq is our latest stab at this middle ground, and so far it's too early to say how it's going. But recent history is not kind to the idea.

My Un-Miracle

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 1:16 PM EDT

If a miracle happened on Friday, an un-miracle happened on Sunday. I was fine all day Friday, fine on Saturday, and fine Sunday. Until lunchtime. Then I collapsed again. Ditto on Monday around 10 am. Ditto again today.

As usual, no idea what's going on. But I'll blog whenever I have spurts of energy.

My Day

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 1:25 PM EDT

Heart test. Check. EKG. Check. Chest X-ray. Check. Complete spinal X-ray. Check. 20 vials of blood drawn. Check. All that's left is a lung test tomorrow and dropping off a stool sample. Then I get a week off before I visit City of Hope for an orientation and further instructions in preparation for the stem cell transplant in April. Progress!

Republicans Are Making Obama Popular Again

| Mon Mar. 16, 2015 10:38 AM EDT

This isn't exactly Oprah levels of adulation or anything, but President Obama's Gallup approval ratings have been rising steadily ever since Republicans won the midterm elections last year. He's been bouncing around positive territory ever since the start of 2015, and today he clocks in at 48-47 percent approval.

Is this because the economy is picking up and people are just generally happier? Is it because his executive actions have made a favorable impression on the public? Is it because Republican incompetence makes him look good by comparison? Hard to say, but it certainly suggests that Democrats are pretty happy with him. As Ed Kilgore says:

Among Democrats, who are supposedly on the brink of a "struggle for the soul of the party," and ideologically riven between Elizabeth Warren "populists" and Obama/Clinton "centrists," Obama's approval rating stands at 81%. And looking deeper, he's at 86% among self-identified "liberal Democrats," 78% among "moderate Democrats," and yes, 67% among "conservative Democrats," such as they are....This is another example of isolated data being somewhat limited in value, but worth a couple of dozen Politico columns.

Yep. And I'll bet that once things get going, Hillary Clinton will poll about the same way.

Factlet of the Day: Mutual Funds Suck

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 2:50 PM EDT

Jeff Sommer summarizes the results of actively managed mutual funds over the past five years:

If all of the managers of the 2,862 funds hadn’t bothered to try to pick stocks at all — if they had merely flipped coins — they would, as a group, probably have produced better numbers.

I am not an investment advisor, so do whatever you want to do. But if you're smart, you'll invest in a few low-fee index funds and then just leave them alone. That is the path of wisdom.

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Ides of March Catblogging - 15 March 2015

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 1:25 PM EDT

Et tu, Hopper? A few days ago I featured Hilbert draped over my sister, so I figured that turnabout is fair play: here's Hopper draped over me to make up for the lack of normal Friday catblogging. Hopper is a Daddy's girl, and will sit on no one's lap but mine. Nor will she even do that very often. But once or twice a day she suddenly gets in the mood and plonks herself into the crook of my arm for an hour or so, purring loudly the whole time. Unlike the tubby Hilbert, Hopper weighs a svelte 11 pounds (up from nine when we first got her), so she's no trouble at all to handle. A relaxing time is had by all.

Chart of the Day: Even the Rich Think the Middle Class Is Getting Screwed

| Sun Mar. 15, 2015 11:56 AM EDT

A couple of weeks ago Pew did a poll about government policies during the recession, but I've been too sick to blog about it. However, it's stayed safely in my Saved Stuff folder awaiting my recovery, so here it is today. It's really two charts. Here's the first one:

Nothing too surprising about this. Generally speaking, people think the government did a lot to help out banks (bingo!), large corporations, and the wealthy. The poor and the middle class pretty much got nada. Since any poll like this is going to be dominated by the sheer number of poor and middle class respondents compared to wealthy respondents, this is about what you'd expect.

But now take a look at this table:

That's amazing. Even those with high incomes agree that wealthy people benefited the most from government policies and that the poor and middle class got bupkis. Even Republicans largely agree that this has been the case.

This is Stockholm Syndrome writ large. Everyone—rich, poor, Republican, Democrat—agrees that in the wake of the greatest financial disaster since the Great Depression, the government mostly turned its largesse on banks, big corporations and the wealthy. Nonetheless, Republicans—the longtime party of banks, big corporations and the wealthy—have done increasingly well over the past six years. For an explanation, take your pick:

  • Most voters don't understand Republican economic priorities.
  • Most voters don't think Democrats would do any better.
  • Most voters think this is just the way the world works and there's no point voting based on economic promises in the first place.

Whatever the reason, only about 20 percent of middle-class voters think government policies benefit the middle class. The first party to figure this out and embrace it wholeheartedly has a huge electoral opportunity ahead of it. But first, they're going to have to ditch the rich. Can either of them ever do that?

Pi Day Health News

| Sat Mar. 14, 2015 11:38 AM EDT

Well, a miracle happened. Last Monday, the 2nd, I fell off a deep cliff. For no apparent reason, I was sleeping very poorly and I spent entire days in a miasma of lethargy so great I was nearly debilitated. Twice things got so bad that I went to the ER.

Then, yesterday, suddenly I climbed back on the cliff. I woke up feeling perfectly normal. A little tired, perhaps, but that's normal for post-chemo recovery. In all other respects, I'm human again.

So what happened? Theory 1: We'll never know. Stuff happens for mysterious reasons. Theory 2: It was depression, and it eventually worked its way out of my system. Theory 3: My physician prescribed a different set of sleep meds on Thursday, and I slept better that night.

It's all very weird, and hopefully it will last. In another week or two the Effexor should kick in, and hopefully that will boost my mood (and improve my sleep) as well. The timing is welcome, since I have a busy few weeks of tests and procedures ahead of me.

So that's that. I'm still not in tip-top condition or anything, but I'm basically OK for the first time in two weeks. It's amazing.

POSTSCRIPT/BLEG: My new sleep meds work better than the old ones, but they still aren't ideal. My doctor mentioned the possibility of trying a med like Lunesta, which I gather is a time-release formulation. Does anyone with moderate-to-severe insomnia have any experience with this? Does it really keep you asleep for a full night? Any personal experiences welcome.

Friday Hummingbird Blogging - 13 March 2015

| Fri Mar. 13, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

My physical collapse this week prevented me from taking any new cat pictures, and today I have a full day of workups in preparation for stage 2 of chemo. However, I did snap a new picture of our hummingbird babies yesterday. They seem to be growing nicely.

In the meantime, if you need a cat fix, my sister recommends this Daily Mail article about a human-cat translation device. Spoiler alert: it didn't go well.