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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between

17Aug/121

How much would you pay to be 1% less likely to die in the next month?

I was presented with a very curious dilemma this past weekend: Was I willing to pay $10,000 in order to eliminate a 1% chance that I might die in the next month?

The situation was this... I awoke Sunday morning to find a bat flying circles around my bed. I opened the window and with a little encouragement the bat flew out.  A few hours later I read that according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) anyone sleeping in a bedroom where a bat is found should receive the rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) if the bat is not submitted for testing.  Bats have a documented history of transmitting rabies to people as they slept.  (Had I known this before releasing the bat I would have had a separate moral dilemma, would I be willing to pay $10,000 to avoid causing the death of a bat.)

Rabies is 99.99999999% fatal if not treated long before symptoms occur; treatment is 100% effective. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) is very expensive, treatment fees (from web-based patient reports) range from $5,000 - $15,000, depending on location, hospital, availability of vaccine, etc. Insurance will likely only cover a portion of my treatment, and as my girlfriend has no insurance I'll be on the hook for the full price of her treatment. I had roughly 72 treatment-effectiveness-limited hours to decide what action, if any, I would take. What would you do?

I find it a fascinating situation to be in, a fascinating problem to wrestle with, because unlike many of the more nebulous philosophical questions relating to morality,  ethics, the nature of existence, etc. this is so elegantly, cruelly simply.

You can't know if you were infected, but you can estimate the likelihood that you were infected. You will absolutely die if you were infected and do not get treatment, but you will not suffer any ill effects if you were infected and get treatment. If it cost $1 almost everyone would get treated (in my situation), but it cost $100,000 almost no one would get treated (in my situation).  Somewhere between $1 and $100,000, somewhere between a 0% chance of infection and a 100% chance of infection exists the divide between getting treated and not getting treated.

I spent the first 24 hours after exposure trying to find where this line of demarcation lay.

Estimating the likelihood of infection was critical.   If it were large the decision would be easy.  I found that various studies put the rate of rabies infection in bat populations at anything from less than 1% to 6%. Bats observed in their natural environment seem to have a lower than 1% rabies infection rate, while bats which have encountered humans, been captured, and sent in for testing have a rate as high as 6%.  Periodic public rabies panics which caused more people to test more bats found inside their homes suggests that the real infected rate related to human-bat encounters is more like 3%. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume my bat had no more than a 3% chance of being rabid.  But of course to become infected I would have needed some contact with the bat.  Surely the likelihood that it bit or scratched me as I slept was low, as my prevailing theory was that I woke up as a result of hearing it somehow wiggle its way through the screen window and then flap against the blinds.  In the end I arbitrarily estimated that there was no more than a 33% chance that I had contact with the bat.  Combining these I estimated my risk as certainly no higher than 1%.

And so it is I spent the evening and the next morning pondering whether I would spend $10,000 to save myself a 1% chance of semi-immediate (and by all accounts agonizing) death.  I was leaning strongly towards not seeking treatment, not wanting the financial devastation over what surely was a small likelihood of grievous harm.

My girlfriend was not so resigned as I to accepting the risk, and as a result I ended up spending more than an hour trying to pin the billing department of the local hospital down to an actual price range for the treatment.

The local hospital's cost for treatment ended up being lower than the average I'd seen online and was roughly $5,100.  That amount broke down to $2,500 for the Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG) drug, $1,800 for four separate Imovax/Rabavert vaccines, and $800 for the administration of those medications across four visits.  With the estimated costs half of what I'd been expecting, and with the anxiety my girlfriend would continue feeling indefinitely had we not sought treatment, getting treated now made sense.

We were treated, and I am enjoying my new found nearly complete immunity to rabies.  I have been volunteering myself and this new super power to friends or family, hoping they may be having a problem with a rabid  or otherwise suspicious animal; thus far I have sadly found no one who needs my help...

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21Aug/105

Vegetarian Dining Club Stats

The Vegetarian Dining Club now was 505 members, so I decided to take a look at the membership roster and see just what stats I could extract from the membership data.

Attendance Frequency

The distribution of event attendees...

  • 348 members have never come to an event.
  • 158 members have come to at least one event.
  • 89 members have come to at least two events.
  • 57 members have come to at least three events.
  • 45 members have come to at least four events.
  • 19 members have come to at least ten events.
  • 10 members have come to at least fifteen events.
  • I've gone to 63 events.

Sampled Member Specifics

Looking at a semi-random sample of member profiles, this is what I found...

Eating habits:

  • 64% vegetarian
  • 27% vegan
  • 2% omnivorous
  • 7% unknown

Average length of vegetarianism/veganism: 7.5 years.

Sample sizes were small, so these sampled numbers are really rough estimates.

Top Ten Most Visited Venues

  • Real Food Daily*
  • The Veggie Grill
  • Native Foods
  • The Vegan Joint
  • Swingers
  • Vegan Glory
  • California Vegan
  • Mao's
  • Chandni
  • Seed

* We don't go there any more, but it used to be a regular spot...  (It's very popular, but I'm not personally a fan.)


Top Members

And our top 10 attending members are:

  1. Mike K.
  2. Harnish
  3. Denise
  4. Ashok
  5. Bianca
  6. Michael
  7. Arvin
  8. Nora
  9. K
  10. Dave

Donations & Costs

  • Average monthly cost to run the group: $44/month (Meetup fees, party food/supplies, etc.).
  • Average amount we're short on every dinner tab: -$2 ! (we're usually almost exactly right, and if it's off it's usually because people chipped in a little too much)
  • Average donation: $1 / active member.
  • Total expenses to date: $1195
  • Total donations to date: $95
  • Total advertising revenue to date: $150

Group Stats

We average 3.5 meetups per month!

Average dining event size is 7 people!

That's about all the meaningful data I could extract from the site...

^Quinxy

21Jun/102

The Pseudo-Carnivorous Revolution

The world will never go vegetarian while there's a single living animal left on earth, not without a universally accepted and completely convincing meat substitute.  That substitute will almost assuredly be in vitro meat, non genetically modified animal muscle cells cultured in bioreactors and exercised on substrates like yogurt's Franken-cousin.  It may sound unappetizing, but in vitro meat has the potential to be identical to real meat in taste and texture while being far healthier than either meat or the current meat alternatives.  In vitro meat will be free of fat, free of antibiotics, free of gluten, free of phyto-estrogens,  and potentially free of additives and other undesirable toxins like pesticides.  Whether a new stew of undesirable chemicals becomes involved in the manufacturing process remains to be seen.

Even if it's not perfect out of the gate, in vitro meat will improve as the technology matures, and market forces will ensure it leaves the starting blocks competitive with the already high bar soy, wheat gluten, and fungus based fake meats have set in health and taste.

While all this pseudo-carni-gastronomy may perpetually put off die hard foodies, they matter not at all;  McDonald's ubiquity has not been obstructed by anyone's informed disapproval.  If the Great Vegetarian and Vegan War of the New Millennium is to be won it will be won because we have found a substitute for the slurry used in chicken McNuggets, not because we have grown the perfect fake lamb chop that will fool a New York Times' food critic.

And while the soy, wheat gluten, and fungus based fake meats have made tremendous progress over the last twenty years, I suspect the carnivores will forever see stigma attached to them because they aren't descended from the dominion of animals, "as God intended".  In vitro meat, on the other hoof, they'll likely buy as a lesser leap of faith.  First they'll buy it without realizing it is ingredient number three inside their Swanson Hungry Man microwave meal, then within a few years they'll buy it from their grocery store pseudo-butcher to take to their in-laws' July 4 barbecue.

Cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, et cetera will be safe, to become unprofitable, unpopular, unnecessary, and perhaps culled or left to their own devices in a world harsher than their domesticated genetics can survive.  I hope we can gather enough of our humanity to let the last of the animals raised for meat die of natural causes in comfortable circumstances.  But whatever their fate, the generational cycle of suffering will end, and that is the most important goal; and it is achievable, in our lifetime.

To that end, in 2008 PETA launched an In Vitro Meat Challenge PR stunt, with a $1 million prize for the first company by 2011 to commercially sell an in vitro meat product.  While that was an unrealistic deadline given the state of the technology and the FDA approval process, it is predicted that in vitro meat will come to store shelves as early as the next 5 - 10 years.  In the mean time soy, wheat gluten, and fungus based fake meat products continue to evolve, with new incarnations arriving on store shelves and in restaurants monthly.

It is a good time to be a vegetarian or vegan, and it's about to get much better, whether or not you like the pseudo meats.

^Quinxy

An interesting video about the recent announcement by scientists at the University of Missouri that they've perfected a soy product that eerily simulates the texture of chicken.

We can perhaps find enough humanity in us to let the last of the animals raised for meat die of natural causes in environments
11Feb/102

Others Will Die So I May Live, and That’s Okay

I'm a vegetarian for reasons of morality, rather than health or the environment; taste seems a poor reason to kill.  But there are other reasons to kill living creatures, and I either guilty of or complicit in them.  We all are.  Any vegan/vegetarian who believes otherwise is not being honest with themselves.

It is so easy to kill.  And we do it in so many ways, some direct and many more indirect. 

My personal weapons of choice are my shoes and my car.  I shudder to think how many little creatures I have tread upon or how many winged miracles I've turned to goo on my windscreen.  And much to my sorrow, driving I have killed two birds, and possibly a cat; every day I get in my car I accept that risk as part of the cost of my transportation.  And I've also killed insects I couldn't easily or safely escort outside, by hand and chemical attack.

But there are also less direct means of murder. 

One of the worst ways is that I buy meat products for my dog.  My dog is a rescue, so I didn't create her, or her need to eat, but out of concern for her health (which is already poor) I choose to feed her the meat diet her biology expects.  My money pays for her food which pays the farmers and fishermen to do their dirty deeds.   I've also supported various dog charities and their saving of dogs which will over the course of their years eat many an animal.

But even my own food is indirectly complicit.  When I purchase a vegetable from the store I accept that the farmer in his planting and harvesting killed many a pest in order to get this to me; insects and animals are killed by pesticides, by traps, by farm machinery, by the vehicles delivering the produce, etc.

Of course there are also plenty of other often discussed sources of animal suffering and death I am indirectly responsible for, such as the research done for medications and surgery procedures I have been or will be prescribed, as well as products I have or will buy that I may not realize involved animal testing.

But to my mind, my greatest contribution to the suffering and slaughter of animals comes from the most indirect and least avoidable source, my every daily dollar spent.  I buy the goods that meat eaters make, I pay for the services meat eaters render.  My rent goes to meat eaters, my health insurance payment goes to meat eaters, my car payment goes to meat eaters, my tax supports the infrastructure of a meat eating nation, and I've employed and will employ meat eaters.  And with every dollar that ends up in the pockets of a meat eater, some meat/fish/fowl is purchased, and I increase the likelihood that they will create and raise meat eating families, and that they will buy those children meat, and that...

Anyone who sees their vegetarianism or veganism as the absolute end of their complicity in the slaughter and suffering of animals  is a fool.  But it's ok.  It's a start, and a very good start.  And it's likely the only way change will come.  Vegetarians/vegans would win no converts to their way of thinking by isolating themselves, converts are won by being perfectly normal people who just happen not to eat animals. 

My vegetarianism is my attempt to do the best I can to create a future I want, while living in a reasonable present where I feel ok with my actions; and I think it's important not to fool myself into thinking my life or actions are any purer than they are.

20Jan/100

My Vegetarian Dining Club passes 400 members and 70 events!

My Vegetarian Dining Club actually has 410 members and 71 past events; it's becoming so popular I've decided to require approval for membership.  So far I'm approving everyone, but it adds that nice exclusive touch, so that when you are let in, as I expect everyone will be, you feel that extra bit of specialness we all crave. ;)  Also, restriction sets the stage for the enforcement of rules, and the crafting of club culture.  Later this month we're having The Great Vegetarian Cabal of Twenty-Ten.