Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hunting the great white elephant

Given that I am not especially employed at the moment, I haven't had to deal with a lot of Christmas formalities and "fun." But I still have some ranting to do. I hate hate hate white-elephant gift exchanges. I can't help but think of the schmuck working for slave-wages that made that silly widget, and I can't have fun at his/her expense.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just too far

"James Chartrand" seems like a huge jerk. There's been a story circulating the web about blogger "James Chartrand" coming out as a woman, complete with a sob story about how it was just the glass ceiling keeping her stuck at the level of mediocrity, and all of a sudden, she changed the name under which she published and found great success. She's been called an Uncle Tom for stepping atop the glass ceiling and watching the women milling around below her - and it's true. I don't necessarily think it's a big deal to access privilege without making sure it goes to everyone else who was wrongly robbed of it. It's slimy, but a girl's gotta eat.

Being wronged doesn't obligate you to protect everyone else from the same fate (Of course, it's not that simple. The classic example of this dilemma is women who don't report sexual assault. But lots of rapists are successfull prosecuted, and we still have an epidemic of rape.), but regardless of whether or not you've been wronged, you don't make thing worse for people (other than by perpetuating the original problem). It's a classic case of "Just because I'm black, it doesn't mean I have to fix your racism.)

As Amanda Hess of the sexist has reported, "Chartrand" engaged in some active misogyny with her online persona. Hess speculates that misogynistic jokes Chartrand made were in fact tongue-in-cheek jokes, given that the blogger herself is female.

Even in that case, the damage has already been done. Minstrelsy is as damaging to a group's reputation when they're the performers.

The thing that really twists the knife is that she made a coy attempt to come out without taking responsibility for the damage that James Chartrand inflicted against female writers.

Even when the story is extra-tidy and she's just a lady trying to get around the glass ceiling, people don't believe her, and loudly proclaim that discrimination against female writers is a myth.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Then take a left just before the old Patterson place...

I just got a press release from some Swedish sex-ed group (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education) presenting a new term for the hymen, in the hopes that it will help dispel some myths about female sexual purity. In English, they are going for "vaginal corona." I'm small-town enough to refer to places by old names, so I have a hard time seeing people really accept the change in nomenclature. Plus, the myths are part of an active agenda - like the press release says:
“The myths surrounding the hymen were created to control women's freedom and sexuality.
For more info, see Jessica Valenti's book The Purity Myth.

I'm pessimistic about this term's future, but I appreciate the effort. Also, check out the link above: there were a lot of things I didn't know about the "vaginal corona."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

There's no point in fighting biology

A study recently showed people who agree with a biracial candidate (who could that be?) as perceiving his skin to be lighter in color than those who disagree with him in general. If you were going to follow the general thrust of sexist evolutionary psychology, you could only conclude that it's just not fair to ask people to accept leadership from a dark-skinned person. But whaddya know, you haven't seen that kind of conclusion trumpeted in bad science writing.

Funny how it sounds totally ridiculous when applied to racial destiny, but people are all over biological/sociological destiny being directed by sex.

I'm just going off of that little blurb and my recollection of a story on the radio the other day, but I'm pretty sure the study didn't control for the race of the participants, so I'd take it with a grain of salt. Also, it's being published in PNAS, which is hardly prestigious.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A false-positive is as false as a false-negative.

The horrified reaction to the new guidelines for less-frequent mammograms in women over 50 has been driving me nuts. The way it's being sold is just terrible (as in they just don't want people to worry over nothing), but that doesn't mean that it's a bad recommendation. If we're going to complain so much about doctors overtesting and practicing "defensive medicine," I'd expect this kind of thing to get a better reception. The last straw for me was when I saw a Newsweek article saying that the real problem with mammograms is that they tell us too much stuff that we don't understand, and that hey, it's just a matter of figuring that stuff out, so irradiate away for the sake of the few that actually benefit from yearly mammograms starting at 40, regardless of the risks that everyone else are taking on. It's really misleading to say that mammograms give us a lot of info we're not using. If we don't know what it means, it's not information. I have a hard time understanding how the method made it into everyday practice, for its rather pathetic track record.

The article says:

Many cancer groups opposed the decision, and it's easy to see why: their job is to ensure that no one, no matter how slim the odds, dies of cancer that could have been prevented. Proponents of evidence-based medicine say that mammograms lead to too many unnecessary tests and the detection of too many tumors that may not really need treatment. But as it turns out, mammograms themselves aren’t the problem.

I can understand the impulse to dismiss the harm of a false-positive, but everyone assumes that the mammogram isn't susceptible to false-negatives. Everyone brings up their friend who was the exception to a rule as evidence that the rule is useless, but weird stuff confounds even very accurate tests (which the mammogram is not). It took me a long time to recognize that I am a vanishingly rare exception, so my experience with medical misadventures isn't really relevant to basically anyone.

I think I have emotional standing to assert that exceptions aren't what we should base standard practices around, so I don't want to hear about your grandmother who caught her breast cancer early with a mammogram before the age of 50. It is pretty nice when people luck out and get useful information from a mammogram in their 40s, but most of the time, all you get from a mammogram is a confirmation of what you knew to begin with. Plus, a patient undergoing mammography is exposed to radiation, and that's best avoided.

On a barely-related and sort of silly note, I always think of how the children in A Series of Unfortunate Events were subjected to unnecessary surgery, which has caused me to associate unnecessary medical procedures with melodrama more strongly than I should. Plus, I should admit that I have probably had an unnecessary MRI or two over the past few years, but I'm not about to argue with my neurologist as he tries to feel his way around the unlit area where my health hangs in the balance. If anyone has a good chance as guessing right, it's him. My somewhat-educated feeling is that I'll probably be okay, and if I go four or five years like I have been, I'm probably out of the woods.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Why not abortion insurance?

I'm as peeved about the Stupak amendment as anyone else, but with the paranoid political climate out there, I expected nothing else. It makes me wonder why I've never seen supplementary coverage for abortion available for sale. There is the self-selection thing, where people philosophically opposed to abortion wouldn't buy a policy, but the procedure itself usually isn't very expensive, so I imagine a pool of pro-choice policy-holders who may never find themselves needing to access their abortion coverage would be able to support the cost of the procedures undertaken.

I'm at a stage in my life where if a pregnancy comes, I'll go with it, but a D&C is something even some planned pregnancies end with, so I couldn't honestly skip buying a cheapish policy out of self-interest. Then again, the cost of a simple abortion is probably the kind of cash I could scare up at a time when I needed it, so I would be a lot better off just donating to an abortion fund, rather than building a policy where some of my money would have to be skimmed off the top of the pool to line the pockets of some insurance broker.

Maintaining access to abortion is something that a not-explicitly-feminist organization can't really do at the moment, so as always, it's up to the explicitly feminist organizations to make it happen.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Everyone loves a tomboy

I was never big on girl-culture as a child (that is, I don't remember much interest in dolls or makeup or family-type games), but I didn't fit any description of a tomboy (I am a total weakling and uninterested in sports), so I didn't really feel that I had a gender-mold to fit into, but I found that I tended to identify a lot with tomboy characters in books, and loved the idea of a girl having a boy's name. My name is most definitely a girl's name. I was so disappointed when I found out that it had such a lamely-patriarchal meaning (it's often just defined as "Abraham's wife," but "princess" comes up a lot.) I thought about this when I came across this article about androgynous names trending toward girls, and how parents who prefer androgynous names usually go for more-masculine ones, regardless of their child's gender. The author uses the example of the name Leslie as one that began as a boy's name, and once it became popular for girls, boys' parents dropped it like a hot rock. Hello, ambient misogyny. Girls who act like boys are cool, but boys who act like girls are fags.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Compounding the disappointment

The BMJ (British Medical Journal) British Journal of Criminology has declared the widespead use of date-rape drugs to be an urban myth. This depresses Tressugar, but I am GLAD to see it said so clearly. It drives me batty when people get so earnestly grave and serious with their roofie-warnings for young women. When people use oversimplifications/exaggerations like this to pretend to confront a problem as complicated* and serious as rape, it creates a sense of complacency.

Tressugar says:
It's troubling that some experts and the media cannot find a way to remind people about the dangers associated with binge drinking without discrediting women who have been victims of sexual abuse.
I think it's conceding too much to say that this is a discredit to victims of rape. I imagine that blackout-drunk women pushed into sex haven't played out in their minds exactly what all the possible consequences of extreme drunkenness could entail. I don't think that acknowledging that a victim's actions contributed to the situation in which they were vulnerable is a discredit; it's a simple acknowledgement of cause-and-effect. To me, it's like the math that you do when you decide whether or not to buy health insurance. You can do a bunch of things to lessen the likelihood that you will become very very sick, but you can't eliminate the possibility. Shit happens, and blame isn't really the point, especially because the one who actually pays is the victim. I ignored/didn't really notice a constant headache for a couple of months, and if I'd noticed it sooner, I just might have been able to prevent the devastating illness I ended up with. But maybe I couldn't have; I don't know. I'm not in charge of these things. I'm also not in charge of how people around me act, and neither is any other drunk woman of the people she's with. Glossing over the contributing factors to anything works against the possibility of preventing it.

So the roofie lie is dangerous in two ways: it leaves people more vulnerable to rape AND it discredits the anti-rape cause, which its detractors would say collapses without an overcautious but shamelessly deceived victim. There's nothing just-so about the story. The last thing I expect out of the godless, random universe in which I live is fairness. It's up to people to enforce that.

Of course, the number one contributing factor among the things that make rape happen is the action of the rapist. It's really not possible to control all the influences upstream from there; most people who get drunk don't get raped or commit rape. But a lot of people who are raped or commit rape did get drunk beforehand. I mean, how many hundreds of times have you heard the story about the marathon-running only-organic-vegan who died of a heart attack at 55?

Justice is not natural, so we have to consciously choose it. We can and should BLAME THE RAPIST FOR RAPING. It's not a crime (or even really impolite or unwise) to get drunk; It is a crime to rape. You don't just increase the chances that someone will be raped when you rape them - you decide that you will rape. You may get away with smoking cigarettes for a couple of decades without related health problems, but you will definitely have created a problem if you fill your kid's sippy cup with bleach.

It seems pretty simple to me, but a rape culture's self-enforcement doesn't get it, (link via Amanda from Pandagon) and refuses to, so if I'm going to really face facts here I'm not going to hold my breath until our sick culture can acknowledge what the facts mean.

Someone got raped? Let's think of anyone we could blame who is not the rapist! Maybe...the victim! Yeah, she's a total slut!


It's pretty nice when the stars align so that your drunken escapades don't end up with some guy raping you, but that doesn't make you better than the people whose did. I know I've never drunk so much as to black out again for a couple of reasons: a) I don't want that to happen to me again and b) it's just not fun to be falling-down drunk, or to have the falling-down drunk hangover.

*I know that people claim it isn't complicated, but I'm not convinced, and I find it seriously counterproductive to gloss over the complications of the subject. There are a lot of debates about what is and is not rape, and to use some pop-cultural examples, I think it's pretty damn clear that Joan was raped by her fiance, but Pete did not rape the babysitter that lived down the hall. He used some deception and unfair coercion, but he "convinced" her to sleep with him, and in the face of her disadvantage, she relented. That transactional view of sex is icky, sure, but it seems to be an actual way people carry out their sex lives. I'm not willing to define rape down to where it is the primary mode of sexual interaction between two people who are getting a raw deal out of their sex lives, but basically comfortable with it.

A stereotypical woman who "gives" sex to her partner in exchange for love/security/material support may in fact be satisfied with her sex life. It's obviously not a great way to negotiate a sexual relationship - to me it's downright creepy - but if it helps some limp through patriarchal control of their lives, I say let them keep it as long as they want it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Acceptable Rebellion

I am a fan of Lady Gaga. Lame provocateurs rely on cliches to upset people - The 90s saw Marilyn Manson "pushing" the same boundaries metal trashed in the 80s. She pushes some of the go-to boundaries like nakedness and gender - to good effect. I was really impressed with Gaga's red lace dress that covered her face. It really helped me understand why I don't buy it when people talk about fashion being artistic. Fashion's completely and voluntarily restricted by the paramaters of prettiness. No one experiments with outfits that make them look fat or like they have a pretty bad case of scoliosis.



I can only imagine that the intersex rumor was started by her, as a part of the attempt to really push boundaries of what people find attractive or interesting. Of course, she still follows a lot of rules: she's thin, she's white, she's American, she's rich, she usually complies straightforwardly to gender norms, and she makes vanilla pop music. It's an unfortunatev truism of boundary pushing that there are always some holds barred.

Another thing I love about her is that it's hard for someone who grew up after the sexual revolution to have any comprehension of what it must have been like to be actually shocked by something a media figure does. My age cohort hasn't had a single cultural shock. I do wonder what it is with the kids these days, though. Nothing seems subversive. Self-deprecating humor is basically the only kind out there, but I think that Liz Lemon is really a subversive character because she embodies Impostor Syndrome. Self-critical people use really melodramatic terms (I'm so STUPID, how could I have done that?) and Liz is what that melodrama describes. She's bad at everything (skills/looks/relatioships) except work. And her mom thinks she's cool.

stepping out of the corner Republican sensationalism has painted us into

The first thing I heard this morning when my alarm went off was NPR saying that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It was kind of a lolwut moment for me. Obama hasn't even been in office for a year, and even for that little amount of time, hasn't done very much. He ran a very emotional campaign, and I think it's resulted in a little confusion. Hope and change are pretty neat things, and it must have been a conscious decision to make him the fun candidate. Like a lot of opinion regarding Barack Obama, I think that hading this prize to him is more about projection than what he's actually done. The rest of the world seems pretty taken with him, and relieved that the US hasn't been permanently poisoned by Bush-brand haterade.

For all the talk about Bush's everyman appeal, I find Barack Obama's no-drama approach to Presidenting to embody common sense in a way I'd never expect out of a national leader. The low-key response to rooting out some potential terrorists has been very impressive, and I just loved how he brushed off the media for the national day of prayer. I don't think he can really fake enthusiasm, or have press-conference tantrums. Also, a little while ago, the DHS came up with an SOP for deciding when to raise or lower the terror-rainbow alert system. Bush didn't have a way to lower it - literally.

I'm not thrilled with Obama, but I think he's engineering his media presence to be as unexciting as possible. If he can succeed in toning the media down, he'll have done something that this country has needed very badly.

But here I am projecting and speculating, almost as badly as a talking head.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Well no kidding

It turns out that shackling prisoners during childbirth is unconstitutional. Idaho is one of the states where this is practiced, and the ruling came from the 8th circuit, so I don't know how/when this might reach us, but it's sure nice to have a conservative court ruling in favor of women's reproductive freedom. From RHReality Check:

Last week, in Nelson v. Norris, a federal Court of Appeals held for the first time that the U.S. Constitution protects pregnant women in prison from the unnecessary and unsafe practice of shackling during labor and childbirth. Notably, although the American Civil Liberties Union argued the case more than a year ago, the court’s decision comes on the heels of three states (TX, NY, and NM) passing legislation in 2009 to restrict the use of shackles on pregnant inmates. These three join IL, VT, and CA in restricting the practice. Both the outcome and the history of the Nelson case and the recent legislation demonstrate the dramatic shift that has taken place around this issue.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Being a good sick person

I still am totally fascinated with my brain thing. It's been nearly a year and a half since I had surgery, and most people I meet have no idea what happened to me. I don't have a shaved head or black eye I need to explain away anymore. For a while, I tried to be more vague when it came up that I had ongoing medical issues, but I only ever came up with a more spooky and ominous impression that way. I had a major medical incident which I'm pretty much better from now, even though it completely turned my life upside down - but let's move on to something more interesting. When I saw Rachel Getting Married, I was completely mortified when I recognized Kym's self-absorption in myself. I think it's probably a stage everyone with a huge illness goes through. When your entire world is what medications to take and when, you don't have a lot else to talk about. I have a couple of factors contributing to me being a broken record about my issues - there's the almost died, life changed thing, plus, the technical issues behind it are exactly the kind of thing that tickles my intellectual curiosities.

Both of my younger sisters got engaged to their long-time boyfriends over the past few months, and one of the first things I thought (besides "yay!") was, "Oh thank god -- something exciting is happening to someone in my family and it's not me having a stupid medical problem." I've been grateful to have such a supporting family and set of friends, but being brain surgery lady gets kind of old. Getting a new job where no one knew what happened to me was pretty thrilling - they aren't handicapping my performance with my condition in the backs of their minds. The crowd at Disability Support Services probably has a handle on the etiquitte necessary to have a working relationship knowing about a person's particular difficulties, but I've decided not to really disclose my issues, since it gives me a place not to be Brain Surgery Lady. The mood at DSS is kind of one of don't ask don't tell, where we work hard to let clients keep their privacy in general. I haven't met most of my clients (not that I have a lot), even now that I'm in the classroom providing services.

Rachel at Women's Health News wrote a post about the reception Penelope Trunk has gotten after tweeting something related to her miscarriage: Trunk got a lot of grief about oversharing, and she wrote a great rebuttal about how we do our best to ignore major medical issues women have because they make us uncomfortable. It's even more uncomfortable to have shame heaped upon you for even mentioning your ongoing miscarriage than it is to hear about it. Right on, sister. Miscarriage is often a Big Deal in a woman's life, and everyone tries to ignore it as much as possible. I'm sorry if it's awkward for you to hear about my bizarre medical condition (and I promise you, whatever it was that happened to me really was bizarre). If you had the patience and empathy to deal with other peoples' problems, you would realize that it's not all that bizarre for miscarriage or neurological problems to occur.

Rachel mentions that she has always found Trunk's blog to be off-puttingly self-promoting and sensationalistic. And then once something interesting happens to Trunk, she mentions it, and all of the sensationalism backfires on her. I spent most of my life kind of cultivating an eccentric personality, and all of a sudden it backfires when my neuro-immunity goes bonkers one day. I was weird before, and I'm still strange now. Very soon after I had surgery, one supposed supporter of mine decided to explain away my support for gay rights as a delusional side-effect of my condition. So if I'm going to have a different outlook on things, I have to conform in every other possible way to get anyone to take me seriously.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Terrorism is apparently a poor tool for communicating

If someone murders an anti-choice activist, it's just not necessary to believe that there's a pro-choice terrorist on a rampage. It's an awful possibility, especially because the victim, Jim Pouillo, was murdered while engaging in a protest against abortion, but I think it's a remote one, especially since he was not the only victim of murder in his town today, and there's really no pattern of this kind of thing happening before. Police have connected a suspect with both Pouillon's murder and the second victim's.

I extend my condolences to the victims and their families. Should there have been a political motive to the killings, it's the responsibility of the pro-choice movement to decisively and immediately stamp that kind of thinking out. Everyone is still shocked and horrified about the murder of Dr. George Tiller, but fighting terrorism with terrorism is not only bad tactics, it's evil.

Jezebel found the response of

Fr. Pavone of Priests for Life told LifeSiteNews.com that he hoped to see "a strong expression of indignation from the pro-abortion community, just like there was a strong expression of indignation form the pro-life community at the killing of Dr. Tiller."
I don't know about Fr. Pavone, but I recall a pretty anemic expression of indignation from anti-choice activists after the assassination of Dr. Tiller.

Ashley Todd set back the cause of Republican martyrs by decades - she had us going for a good 12 hours, but her mistake was unnecessary melodrama and, of course, that backwards B. Also, it's tough to fabricate your own murder, and really a bad idea. I simply don't think that anti-choice manipulation goes that far.

Something smells fishy about this, especially how media reports immediately seized on the victim's history of activism as an implied motive for murder. I don't need to remind anyone about the tendency of media to take the first sensational idea connected with a story and run with it. A second man was killed in the same city on the same day, and there's no word on who he was or what kind of political enemies he had.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

To Hell with Skepticism

When I got sick, I first tried to tell myself that I should just deal, and I may have felt pretty bad, but that happens from time to time, so whatever. The ironic thing is that I was really getting into what hypochondriacs dream of - a life-stopping, sympathy-garnering, ambiguous medical condition. If I was going to go on living, I had to be a little flexible, and to stop going along with the luddite guilt trips about "overmedicated" Americans. I take at least six medications on any given day, and who knows if they're doing exactly what they're proven to do?

What I have just isn't on a label. I was diagnosed with an advanced case of WTF. There are lots of symptoms that I address variously, and I feel pretty good most of the time. The classics like eating healthy food and exercising tend to do what they're supposed to, but sometimes I'm exhausted and I have to choose if I'm going to go for a walk or do the dishes. Or to just eat the damn burger and stop my tummy from growling. I don't always make the right choice, and I try to learn from it when I do the wrong thing. I was holding out against particular drugs because I didn't really think they were necessary (IANAD), but soon enough I was completely nonfunctional and miserable. I had to do something.

Empirical purity be damned, I'm not going to circle down the drain for the sake of principle. There were possibilities I hadn't fully explored, and things were getting ridiculous. I dropped the wishful thinking and coyness about symptoms and laid it all out for the various doctors I see, and we got down to some brainstorming. When insurance balked a little, I laid out the cash in good faith* until they relented. I'd held out as much as my health could afford. I'm young and have a whole life ahead of me where I'd rather avoid disability and pain. Mistakes I make in recovery could be irreversible if we don't get astounding new medical technology within my lifetime. I'd like to say that I can prove that I need to take all these meds, but I don't think I can. Precision is great and all, but I'm happy if I feel better. My life completely destabilized, and I can't afford to pare down on these drugs until I have more stability. In the meantime, I'm trying to cultivate an environment in which I can thrive, and keep things as simple as possible.

My unified theory of what to do when there isn't anything to do is that you need to know when to break your own rules.

This can also be stated as, "All things in moderation." But that's boring.

Sometimes I become obsessed with the temptation of a guilty pleasure, and it's a lot more of a problem for me than eating a Twinkie will be in the long run. So, whatever. Screw purity. I rarely act out of hedonism, and when I do it's usually pretty harmless.

*Do you have any idea how expensive speech therapy is? I didn't, but I went in for an appointment before insurance would approve it, and they ended up retroactively covering the consultation.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Blue Dog Betrayal

It seemed like a miracle to elect a Democratic representative in the first district of Idaho. The guy who previously held the seat was a disgrace, and his failures were Walt Minnick's success. An Idaho blogger by the blogonym of Mountain Goat has a bone to pick with Minnick's manipulative and dishonest campaign that stood in support of sCHIP on principle. But health care for everyone else? No way! His constituents don't want that kind of socialized craziness! Take it away, MountainGoat!

On Halloween day last year, in an interview with University of Idaho's KUOI radio in Moscow, you scolded your opponent for voting against expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, saying, incredulously, "Who could be opposed to providing health care to single moms who don't have jobs?"

Bill Sali said we couldn't afford it and voted against it—four times.

You said, "There are some places this country has to invest," and called the votes shortsighted.


Read the whole thing n weep, folks.

Hard-working Idahoans like Tom and Karen sent you to Washington because you gave them hope. Hope that you could and would convince their country to see them as an investment. People of the 1st District had enough of the rigid ideology that told them they weren't worth the price and sent you to represent them instead. They didn't expect to get a more finely honed rigid ideologist. They didn't expect, nor did they deserve to get their lives turned into political footballs—least of all by you.

Yet that is exactly what you've done. You joined the chorus of townhall crazies and fear mongering ideologues who turned Tom and Karen and every other Idahoan who can't afford medical care into political footballs.

Instead of coming home and working to convince Idahoans that they had nothing to fear and much to gain from health care reform (something many of us were prepared to help you do), you and your advisors (with their legendarily acute grasp of messaging) sent out misinformation-laden press-releases playing up the fears of Idahoans using triggers like "socialized medicine," "big government" and "raising taxes."


Naively, I thought that getting an Idahoan into the Democratic majority could give the progressive agenda some kick to it. But those damn dirty blue dogs rolled right over when they saw blood in the water and donations to their re-election funds. I'm disappointed by Obama in a lot of ways, but I may in fact regret my vote for Walk Minnick.

I just wanted to highlight this fantastic post and give it a push, plus add my own frustrated feelings. WTF, Walt? You're not as silly as Sali, but you're about as useful.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hey, didja hear she was faking?

I posted about a report of an assault on the WSU campus, and since then there have been two more reports. I not only got two e-mails about how the third report was later recanted, but I also got a text message on my phone. Has some unsafe campus got a guilty conscience?

Monday, August 24, 2009

The cankle default

It pains me to use the term "cankle," but I had the poor judgement to click on a link to a news article about the triviality of the size of one's ankle. I noticed something interesting in the wording of one paragraph:
According to podiatrists, the average ankle size is about 10 to 11 inches around; men's ankles may be a little larger. The American Podiatric Medical Association does not recognize cankles as a medical problem, but according to Dr. Kathya Zinszer, a physician at Temple University's School of Podiatric Medicine, cankles can be caused by all types of medical issues.
If we're going to keep to a simple gender binary, the "average" ankle being written about is a woman's, and it's the size of a man's ankle that's the tacked-on side note. Well, bare minority of human beings, look who's "average" now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Amazing, brilliant magazine editor lets up on body-fascism for one photo, is lionized

Fair warning: every link I'm using in this post has pictures of naked ladies on it.

Via Jezebel, Glamour magazine is making waves with a photo of a naked lady with a tummy. (Maybe NSFW) It's really a lovely photo, and I've never seen anything like it in a women's/fashion mag. The editor's blog entry about all of the glowing praise she's gotten for including the photo is overly-self-congratulatory. Include one photo of a happy naked lady, and we'll forget all about the decades of body-image-assassination that your industry thrives on. She asks rhetorically:

With all the six-packs out there, do you even know what a normal belly looks like anymore—other than the one you see in the mirror?
I'd like to answer that question. I never really knew what a fat woman's body looks like until I had one, which made it a continual disappointment until I wised up. Plus-sized models are carefully arranged so as not to create the rolls of fat that everyone acts like are so unsightly. Sure I've been in locker rooms and stuff, but there's almost no media representation of what actual fat(esque) female bodies look like. The diversity of female bodies is completely steamrolled in media; Things like this really don't need to be a revelation.

Photography projects like Shape of a Mother, Adipositivity, the "normal breasts gallery" were a real shock to me in my early twenties. I really didn't know what stretch marks were. I vividly remember my horror as a teenager when I actually tried out a few yoga poses in the nude, and decided it was thoroughly unerotic.

To conclude: this all pisses me off quite a lot, like when feminists are supposed to fall all over themselves thanking men for understanding that women are people. Stopping active harm is good, but it's not exactly charity.

Public Service Announcement

I got an email about a reported assault on a woman on WSU's Glen Terrell Mall, and wanted to reproduce some useful information (in a manner I am stealing directly from one Penny Dreadful, via Shakesville):


[WSU Police] remind potential perpetrators of assault to be vigilant [and polite] at all times; don't walk alone; stay in well-lighted areas and to use safe transportation whenever possible.

Anyone with information about the assailant is urged to call WSU Police at 335-8548 or 9-1-1 in an emergency.

This information is released as a service to the WSU Community and in compliance with Clery Act requirements.
The original sign that Penny found is a lot more amusing and to-the-point. The release WSU sent out wasn't all that malleable, but I think it would be perfectly appropriate to hang up copies of it at wazzu.

'Regrettably, due to a number of recent incidents, it is necessary to remind men walking alone through the park not to rob, rape, threaten or assault anyone. Thank you in advance for behaving like decent human beings. Signed, single women who refuse to live in fear'.

Monday, August 17, 2009

You have to admit it's getting better

When Obama backs off, he really backs off, but I think I need to recognize that I should take what I can get for now. No public option!? This will do the opposite of reducing health care costs in this country, and just get more premium-payers contributing to Aetna (or whoever)'s massive bloat. I wish I knew more about nonprofit health insurance companies/co-ops, but as someone who's paying a massive premium to stay on Group Health's rolls, I know remarkably little. I will say this, though: the people praising Group Health are basically on the money. It doesn't come cheap, but this is American medicine here. I've run into only a few people who complain about GH, but most docs I've been to have been delighted when they found out the entity with which I am insured. I have a lot of half-baked theories as to why I've had such a good experience with them, but it can't hurt that they approve almost anything a doctor orders. When they reject it, they reject it, so I have spent almost no time fighting with them. I've had to show some rather expensive good-faith, but they've been pretty go-along get-along.

Talking about health care is getting extremely old, but it's kind of like looking at a car crash (or, really, the bills from the ER after a car crash).

The major failing in the "dialog" has been almost no serious proposals for reducing costs. And those that I've seen, like a general policy to skip ineffective treatments, have caused Republicans to scream bloody murder.

In other news, I've started working a part-time job at the U of Idaho - I'm training to caption classes for students who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing, and even the training is kind of fun. I recently got serious about a job hunt again, and scored two interviews. One was for this job and the other for one at a local biotech, basically doing the exact things I disliked about my previous job; I don't think I was really in the running for that one, though, and I think I'd have really hated it. This is a completely new direction for me, and takes better advantage of my natural talents.

As it is, I'm working just less than half-time, and I am a gajillion times more productive regarding things like housework when I am working outside the home at least a little. This is a new thing for me - I don't think I've had a part-time job while not doing anything else since I was 19 - and I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I can pretty much afford it. (I think the new "We'll live on love" is "We'll live on loans.").

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Satire begins to Resemble Stenography

I went to see District 9 last night and went in with kind of a bad attitude, but came out having seen a movie I liked. I was prepared for the worst after the first twenty minutes of dull, earnest satire. There was no way I could sit through two hours of that with the volume set at 11. Somehow, Daniel Engber of Slate was disappointed that the political agenda of the movie never went anywhere, but even after reading his entire article, and especially after seeing the movie, I have no idea why. After the overly-political setup, the movie completely veers off into a narrative about a dude stuck behind enemy lines. Every review's comparison of Wikus Van der Merwe to Michael Scott is perfect.

Wikus is ambitious, desperate for everyone to love him, and basically a pretty nice guy. But he's incompetent. There's a really strong George W. vibe with Wikus. He seems to think he should go ahead and try to do this humanitarian intervention thing, since he really wants things to work out and to be a part of that, and maybe he'll make a few friends along the way. As he bungles his way through evicting the residents of the District 9 slum, he accidentally steals a key piece of alien technology that infects him and begins a process that begins metamorphosizing his biology into that of the "prawn." The process is revolting, painful, and scary.

Between prawn and man Wikus loses some of his illusions about his mission at MNU, and allies with an alien named Christopher Johnson that may be able to a) get the prawns off of this godawful planet and b) reverse Wikus' prawnification process.

This isn't because Wikus is a good person. He's basically acting out of self-interest, and giving a hand up to the prawns in the process is a lucky coincidence. If his life didn't depend on working with Christopher, there's no indication that he'd be able to pull off the crazy moves it took to further the cause of the prawn. Essentially, The Man is what's keeping the prawn down, and people and prawn alike needed this coincidence to save them all. If the prawn technology had been completely lost, MNU would have gone merrily on its way to genocide, and the prawns would have missed their chance at fixing this whole disaster.

If you go, be aware that it's incredibly gory and long. Plus, the prawn language sounds to me a lot like burping or vomiting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You got a better idea?

Woo! Progress on health reform! How much of a difference it will make remains to be seen, but unlike those of us whose insurance denied to fund the use of our iron lungs, I'm not holding my breath until I find out.

I got a press release from Walt Minnick today that included the following remarks:

Like most Americans and like the President, I believe that health care reform must reduce costs, rely on the private sector, prevent restrictions based on age or employment status or preconditions, and must ensure coverage for all Americans. However, this bill simply will not get us there.


Mr. Minnick, you're the congressman here - you have some kind of power to change things, and just saying "nope, not good enough" is a little half-assed in my mind. I thought the Democratic majority was supposed to do away with the "party of no" nonsense. But I was naive.

In my estimation, just about anything would be a step up from what we've got. As an uninsurable Idahoan, I'll take what I can get. The above list of things Minnick wants out of a health plan aren't necessarily feasible or desirable. I don't care what happens with "the private sector," since we've been relying on that to get the same level of care as anyone else at twice the cost. We don't owe them anything (except our huge medical debts).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Making an exception

At the feministing community blog, an author "rmanning" has an infuriating post about her difficulty obtaining a hysterectomy as a woman under the age of 21, even though she's got UTERINE CANCER. It just goes to show that regulating reproductive health decisions tends to be a "one-size-fits-many" thing that leaves some people totally screwed.

I thought it was kind of precious when Andrew Sullivan was astounded that people have late-term abortions for REASONS. He seemed to think he was the only person to ever figure this out. And he's thinking of compiling stories into a book! Never mind how exploitative it is for an outspoken anti-choice pundit to use other people's tragedies to publicly congratulte himself for being able to change his mind. Also, the book has been written many times.

I used to be a little apathetic about reproductive health regulations, but the bizarre and horrible things that can happen to people continually amaze me and have made it clear that such regulation can't be enacted humanely. rmanning mentions text in state law that explicitly says that doctors shouldn't perform hysterectomies on women younger than 21 so they won't make decisions they will later regret. She prudently doesn't mention which state she's contending with, but I suspect that working through the specifics would reveal that the reluctant doctors are being hypersensitive about things that are really more guidelines than laws. And anyway, how could an effort to preserve fertility apply to her killer uterus? I'm no doctor, but it's kind of hard to conceive when you've died of an operable and treatable cancer.

I'm sure that if she was 9, she could get this operation. But it's squickier to the doctors she's run into to yank reproductive organs out of a woman who is nearing what would otherwise be her childbearing years.

I was pretty well convinced that I wouldn't ever have kids when I was 18, 19 and 20, but it turns out I've changed my mind in the interim.

I only say this to illustrate the fact that an 18-year-old can make decisions about her reproductive capacities that she will later regret. But that takes living to "later," which is the primary purpose of her medical care.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Convenience food triage

I like fancy-schmancy food, but I also like junk food. I really like it. Day-glo cheese powder still feels like a fun treat no matter how much I eat it. Both Jezebel and Amanda Marcotte have addressed the issue of how people eat when they're alone, and I think it's a fun topic, but seems incredibly obvious to me. I've never developed a good cooking/cleaning habit, and have frequently opted to go grab some fast food instead of digging out my kitchen. Being hungry tends to make me panic: "I'll never get dinner done before I starve to death!" Knowing that I have this tendency, I've taken a triage approach to feeding myself. If I would otherwise eat a Big Mac for lunch, I figure it's cheaper and probably better for me/the environment to make some convenience food at home, regardless of how junk-foody and excessivley-packaged it is. When I was trying to shake a bad going out for lunch habit, I turned to frozen dinners to bring to work for lunch, and got hooked on the Ethnic Gourmet palak paneer. I load up whenever it's on sale at the co-op. It's all wrapped in plastic, but it's less packaging than you get at a drive-through window. It's also significantly less expensive. It may be yuppier than Lean Cuisine, but I eat it and I like it. Plus, who can argue with brown rice and spinach? My other lazy-food crutch is the avocado. Smoosh it up with some salsa, eat on chips, and there's lunch! It's also just good with salt and a spoon (but it doesn't quite add up to a whole meal). People always warn you about the high fat content and calorie-density in avocados, but they usually aren't taking two drugs that suppress appetite.

I know in my heart of cheap hearts that making the palak paneer myself would be healthier and less expensive and tastier (and more fun), but that's when I have to go back to the triage concept. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good has filled my belly with a lot of cheeseburgers over the years. Oddly, this has become a much more-functional operating principle since I've lost a lot of appetite and not had to contend with the hunger panic. I usually have to remind myself that I need to eat three meals a day, and I don't have my animal instincts to tell me to put that thing in my mouth NOW. If I am not likely to eat anything of substance during the day, I might as well put on some mac and cheese and knock down a few hundred calories so when I do get hungry in the evening I don't turn to quick, yummy things like popcorn and cookies.

Don't worry that I'm dying of a vitamin deficiency: I'm overstating the severity of my food-stupidity to make a point/joke.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

YOUR body - be afraid of it!

If all media were like women's magazines, it would be as confusing as these two headlines caught on CNN's homepage today:


Thursday, June 11, 2009

If Kermie doesn't think I'm cool, I'll kill myself

I've got a post brewing on the subject of moral panics, and figured this terrible early-90s anti-drug film would be a good lead-in.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Pill Thrills

Today is "The Pill Kills Women" Day, which is so absurd I can't even believe it, and I wanted to add one of my favorite one-liners I've ever come up with to the chorus of "WTF?" I've always said that the birth control pill is my favorite recreational drug. The very small risk of dangerous complications really outweighs the extremely high risk of unwanted pregnancy, to me (as a non-smoker). I have effused to everyone I know about how much I love the particular pill I take, so if you're looking for that perfect pill, I'd be happy to pass along my advice/experience. I have taken a couple different kinds over the years, and stuck with this one for nearly a decade now.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Regret

A lot of pro-life rhetoric is spent on warning women that they may regret abortion for their entire lives. I'm sure this is at least sometimes true, but it is not always true. The scare-tactics about abortion decreasing fertility don't have anything to do with killing a particular embryo - just that it might be harder to raise another one in the future. This might seem like an easy argument that avoids a few abortions, but it only works on principles that affect the would-be mother (and father). I think you can regret an abortion for entirely selfish reasons. For that matter, when you have to make a decision between only bad options, I think you're proably going to regret it no matter what you do. I don't think "regret" is necessarily tied to guilt.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

My malpractice is your problem

I ran across a strange comment thread at Kevin, MD's blog about whether a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case deserves any right to privacy regarding the particular complaint. The comments very aggressively argue that they do not. One comment really jumped out at me:

I also agree that once you file that malpractice lawsuit you are saying two (maybe three) things.

1) I think I was wronged
2) I think I deserve some cash
3) I will fight PUBLICLY for my rights

You can guarantee that the lawsuit will be registered as a complaint against the physician and freely searchable for all to see that it occurred. It should NEVER be allowed for a plaintiff in a malpractice lawsuit to be anonymous for this reason. They have to assume a “profile risk” that is commensurate with the physician’s, in my opinion.

If the patient actually was wronged, he or she still deserves their medical privacy. Probably even if they weren't. Patients seek doctors (who sometimes make mistakes) because they are human beings and therefore need medical care. Just because some doctor botched your procedure/care, you shouldn't have to publicly disclose information that is usually protected. The post above assumes that a malpractice suit is generally filed in bad faith. Also, the poster is clearly more worried about the black mark on a physician's record than the possibility that the plaintiff was wronged and the court will rightly decide the case. Most people aren't equipped to make a better decision about a malpractice case than the original judge and jury, or even the quack who got himself charged with malpractice.

I understand that cases are sometimes wrongly decided and people not at fault are punished, but I don't think that a chain of events caused by being alive should be grounds for a patient to lose privacy rights (such rights are something people agree to afford each other - it's not like we can blame fate for a policy of disclosing medical information. People make policies, but they don't get to decide whether they'll ever get sick.). In any case, who the patient is really isn't important to the question of whether they were harmed. Malpractice is malpractice even when it's visited upon someone who has a personal beef with their physician. The commenter's reasoning only applies to those who harass physicians for no good goddamn reason. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Joe Q. Patient hates a doctor's guts and will stop at nothing to see the doctor's career ruined, If a significant number of people had the inclination AND wealth to harass a physician with lawsuits such that it runs their career into the ground, I would be extremely surprised. It's rare that anyone, mean or not, has that kind of wealth, or a Punisher-like desire to ruin someone who also happens to be a doctor. The number of contingencies adds up to make a pretty small population. The reason that all medical facts need to be connected with a person's name in a malpractice suit is some number of people who A) have lots and lots of money and B) hate someone enough that they are willing to sacrifice that money and their time, plus C) the hated person is a doctor.

It also creates a disincentive for victims of malpractice regarding embarassing conditions to seek redress. So, specialize in the treatment of sexually-transmitted diseases and you don't have to worry about lawsuits.

I can't see it adding up to a good effect.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Bipartisan agreement on rape

Via Andrew Sullivan, Playboy magazine knows what unites the red and the blue Americas.

"Obama promised us the dream of post-partisanship—a cuckoo land where party affiliation and factional animosity were forgotten. Turn on cable news or open any newspaper, however, and you’ll quickly discover that the dream has yet to materialize. But there is a way to reach across the aisle without letting principles fall by the wayside. We speak, naturally, of the hate-fuck. We may despise everything these [conservative] women represent, but goddammit they’re hot. Let the healing begin,"
I can't even conceive of how anyone thinks the term "hate-fuck" euphemises anything. It does pretty handily illustrate the concept of rape not being about sex but power. Those conservative ladies think they can oppose my political views? I'll show them that they're still nothing but women, even in their fancy pantsuits.

Hey, it's all in good fun?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bloodthirsty me

In general, I think the death penalty is stupid. That psycho who ate his murder victim's brain is creepy, but he's just one terrible man that everyone avoids anyway. When it comes to extremely influential war criminals (ahem Dick Cheney) I think the death penalty is good policy. Cheney's PR junket has been exactly my worst nightmare of what would happen when he got out of office in the event he weren't put on Death Row somewhere. Everyone's pooh-poohing the way he insisted lies about Iraq be tortured out of detainees in Guantanamo, and humoring his delusions about protecting the country by terrorizing a few guys the military picked up in Afghanistan. He does not belong in polite society. He's still powerful enough that he can fuck up American policy and thinking from beyond the grave that is the ex-vice-presidency.

Frankly, I think Osama bin Laden has done all he can for Al Qaeda, and him walking freely around in the US would be less dangerous to the American people than leaving the Bush administration officials to die rich and happy.

Orchestrating and completely blowing bloody, unnecessary wars should be reason for a person to feel physically threatened by his constituency. Instead, he gets to talk up his "hard decisions" on national television, while wearing a sharp suit that cost more than my car. He had to make "hard decisions" all right, but that doesn't mean he made the right ones. They're "hard" because the consequences are great, and the risk of error is extraordinarily high.

The Obama-shouldn't-have-shaken-Hugo-Chaves' hand scandal seemed pretty ridiculous - and it was - but I can sympathize, even though I don't know what wingnuts think he's done to deserve the world's cold shoulder. I don't think Cheney deserves the cold shoulder, I think he deserves to be put to death. Or, everyone else deserves him meeting that fate. Residual respect for the office that he stole will keep him empowered to influence the national dialog as long as he's alive.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Winning hearts and minds, losing medical coverage

Judy Berman has a post on Broadsheet summarizing the fight to keep "gender identity disorder" from being listed in the newest version of the DSM. The title of her article makes clear what opponents of GIS' listing in the DSM are upset about. The article is called "Are transgender people mentally ill?" gidreform.com's title bar reads "because our identities are not disordered," which I can certainly support in spirit, but not recoginizing gender dysmorphia as a pathology has already had nasty consequences for people needing sexual reassignment surgery in Manitoba, in that the surgery is categorized as being "cosmetic" and therefore ineligble for government subsidy.

If gender dysmorphia is a non-problem, it doesn't need to be treated with expensive surgery. Categorizing transexuals as suffering a pathology should be morally meaningless. If a transexual individual needs surgery to correct a mismatch between their gender and their sex, they have a problem with their original body that can be treated with surgery/medication/counseling - as far as I can tell, what advocates for sexual diversity are objecting to with GIS' listing is the ablist stigma that comes with mental illness. In the real world where transsexuals are subjected to violence and discrimination, it's probably asking a little too much to strike a blow against ablism and homophobia all in one fell swoop. SRS is not a one-size-fits-all solution to gender dysmorphia; plenty of transsexual individuals don't want to physically modify their bodies, so surgery is not indicated in every case. This detail would be crucial to GIS' listing in the DSM

When straight-and-narrow types want to tell transsexuals that they are disordered and should go to hell/the doctor for it, it takes some guts and nuance to say that re-education doesn't "work," but in many situations, gender reassignment does treat the suffering/pathology. This is where the comparison to delisting homosexuality in the 70s departs from the situation with gender identity disorder and the DSM. Homosexuality doesn't need to be/can't be treated with anything whatsoever. Transsexuals who pursue sexual reassignment surgery are meeting physical needs that cissexuals don't have.

You can never be too careful

A few months ago, my younger sister was telling me that she was looking into getting the HPV vaccine, and said I should too. I was pretty proud of myself when I resisted saying, "Oh, but I'm married, " (not that I suspect anything of Andy or think he has an adulterous bone in his body - no pun intended) because we all know that you don't plan on getting cheated on, so if your lover brings home an STD you assume you don't need protection from, you're getting twice the raw deal: broken trust and some kind of infection that could hurt you pretty bad down the road.

If I'm going to do it, I should hurry up, since in about a month I'll be beyond the age range the FDA has approved the vaccine for (9-26) and I doubt insurance will cover it for off-label use.

I've spent enough/too much time with doctors lately, and even my GP only thinks a pap is necessary every few years once you're pretty comfortably monogamous.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A screed about people who do not breed

Feministing detailed the Supreme Court's new ruling that found pregnancy pay discrimination to be legal until the date it was found illegal, (That sounds dumb, but it seems like a pretty straightforward ruling to me.) It sparked some surprisingly anti-mother comments.

Commenter Alice says:

This isn't discrimination against women, it's discrimination against people who become pregnant.* Isn't the idea that those two groups are the same thing something we're fighting against?!
Yes, amongst others like paying women less money for their work.

The replies go back and forth over whether discrimination against women who go through pregnancy is discrimination against women in general, and the very same Alice says

If you oppose infringing the rights of the childfree, then presumably you would oppose ant[i]-discrimination efforts such as this, as mandatory maternity benefits make it illegal to negotiate such benefits away. It consists of the government imposing itself between parties of a voluntary exchange and dictating what they are and are not allowed to agree to. No such similar thing happens to the childbearing in the converse situation. There is no loss of rights, only the loss of social privileging of decisions that society has deemed more valid than others.
The beneficiary of this right is the child who, as a human being, is deserving of the same parental care that anyone who chooses not to have children presumably enjoyed in childhood.

I can appreciate and understand not wanting to have children or go through a pregnancy. I do not, though, think that affording children and their relatives the right not to be punished for their very existence creates a social privilege that those who do not go through pregnancy are denied. I think Bitch Ph.D. said it best when she said,
children are not "goods." They are--are you sitting down? They are human beings. Actual members of society.
I think of that post whenever I hear childfree whinging about being denied a privilege parents are provided. You may be working very hard to practice impeccable birth control for your entire life, but you are still a member of the human race that reproduces itself. Sorry. Just like we have a social obligation to spread costs of healthcare among our fellows, it isn't fair to push the costs of raising children onto the people who do it and still reap the benefits of a growing population's social security program. There are choices you can make to avoid some of the responsibilities/burdens of childrearing (don't get pregnant if you don't want to give birth or care for a child), but the phenomenon of pregnancy and child-bearing isn't going to go away because you avoid doing it yourself.

Men do not get pregnant and therefore never have to contend with pregnancy discrimination in their own pay and career paths, but they benefit from the efforts women expend toward raising their children. They cannot negotiate away maternity leave because they can't get it. Living as a childfree woman doesn't entitle one to a bargaining chip that no one else can use. We see through the wage gap that men use the bargaining chip of not being at risk of pregnancy to negotiate higher salaries, but the conditions in which salaries are negotiated are something we choose as a society according to what we want and what we need. A huge proportion of people want to have children, and everyone needs someone to do it, and we supposedly choose not to punish women for doing the necessary work of maternity.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not even the world's tiniest violin...

I don't really think I can work up any sympathy for this guy after his homicidal rampage.


"You probably think I'm a monster."

Former U.S. soldier Steven Green has been convicted of raping and killing a 14-year-old Iraqi girl.

That's what FBI agents said former U.S. soldier Steven Green told them nearly three years ago about accusations that he had raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killed her and her family.

Green was found guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Paducah of the crimes and could face the death penalty.

Not only did he rape and kill a 14-year-old girl plus her family, he burned the girl's body to destroy the evidence of his crime. I can't even express my disgust.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Monday, May 04, 2009

When the robots rise up and rebel against those who enslaved them

I'm hardly a luddite, but I don't know about letting a robot take care of my feminine hygiene.

The unbearable tastiness of eating

I heard an interview with David Kessler MD, former FDA commissioner, author of the new book The End of Overeating, last night, and it was really bizarre. The man is clearly disgusted by the fact that people get pleasure out of eating and therefore eat a lot of junk food. I would pull a quote or two, but that's a little tough with radio programs. The way he described the neurobiological picture of appetite and desire for food captured what for me has become the most irritating trend in science writing; the "neural circuitry" as separate from self. I'll paraphrase his description of what happens when you see or think of something yummy: your idiotic brain tells you to eat it. It's not you that wants it; it's your brain. If I have a memory of ice cream being delicious, the memory of it giving me pleasure is surely going to be reflected in the "neural circuitry" of my brain. That doesn't make the pleasure any less real or important to my experience of eating. Eating is much more emotionally and experientially complex than simply meeting needs for energy and nutrients. Kessler seems to think this is a problem. I'm glad, and yeah, not a religious eater of healthy food - if I need to eat several times a day, I'd like it to be pleasant. This isn't some kind of creepy mind control, it's a natural desire for tasty food that is reflected in a physical process in my brain. The things I do, feel, want, think, arise from physical processes in my brain. Is that such a bad thing? If we're going to get all excited about "the neuroscience behind" everything, we might as well appreciate and accept the unconscious processes in our brains that contribute to making a personality. Having experience with these processes being manipulated and out-and-out breaking down, I think I have a unique and useful perspective on the issue. From a BoingBoing post about the book:

Instead of satisfying hunger, the salt-fat-sugar combination will stimulate that diner's brain to crave more, Kessler said. For many, the come-on offered by Lay's Potato Chips -- "Betcha can't eat just one" -- is scientifically accurate. And the food industry manipulates this neurological response, designing foods to induce people to eat more than they should or even want, Kessler found...
I think this is a pretty disingenuous thing to write in a book nominally about overeating (which isn't about liking food, exactly, but appetite). The implication of this statement is that if you eat sugar and salt and fat, your hunger will never feel sated. I haven't read the book, but the press about it implies that what this means is that eating food and liking it creates a horrible and unforgettable memory of enjoying it.

The food industry faces a unique problem in our growth-dependent economy: there's only so much people can eat. In that respect, it's not in their interest to pack as many calories as they can into a food product that will have little effect on satiety. They're not trying to sell us calories, they're trying to sell us bags of Doritos.

If I'm still hungry after I finish one bag of Doritos (and if they're light and calorically insubstantial, I am likely to be) I might buy another and eat it too. A good example would probably be diet soda, which they can sell at the same price as regular, but get me to drink a lot more of. I drink quite a lot, myself, but would get a tummy ache if I drank two regular Cokes a day. The problem with making up the nutritional defecit in volume is that there are lots of low-cal foods out there we could be burning through at an enormous rate, but we don't like them very much and in the case of fresh fruit and vegetables, they don't offer much in the way of branding.

I like rice cakes*, but I hardly see the point. I like them, but not enough to justify buying them and getting crumbs all over myself for so little energy payoff. We like fatty, salty, and sugary foods. Convincing me I want to buy and eat more calories than I need or really want is not so hard with truly yummy foods. With other goods, merchants are only limited in their sales by how much of their product people want - which they work a lot to manipulate - or can afford. I have x number pairs of shoes, but I could stand to have more. Like food marketers exploit our natural desire for rich foods, manufacturers of shoes manipulate my desire to look pretty and prestigious. Both of these desires are real, but they don't really tie directly in to the purchase of these goods. My collection of shoes doesn't include any that I like currently, but buying more won't have much effect on my standing in society. Having a nice pair that I liked would, however, make me feel like I looked better. These tactics work with foods, too, so a winemaker can say that you're living the good life when you drink his wine in an attempt to get you to buy it, but Kessler seems more offended by the appeals to taste than any other method of convincing you to put food in your mouth. If these baser motivations bother Kessler so much, you'd think he'd be worried a little about Axe brand hygiene products, the safety of which are dubious, that market themselves by appealing to young men's desire for sex. If Kessler is motivated purely out of concern for the health of poor widdow Americans that like french fries, the moral crusade he's on is equally applicable to the Axe products. We're prisoners to our desire for junk food and sex! How dare these companies exploit our weaknesses like this?!

*How did this iconic diet food lose its place in the pantry of the dieter? When was the last time you saw someone eating one?


Oh my god I'm hungry - time for breakfast.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Everyone's always blaming the free market for its failures, but joke's on them - it doesn't exist!

Consumerist has been pushing the Arbitration Fairness Act, which addresses the problem of mandatory arbitration clauses effectively voiding the very contracts and in which they are situated (except that part about mandatory arbitration), as well as the contract's relation to the laws of the United States, where most contracts contain these clauses.

Today they tell the story of a guy who lost his job when his prosthetic leg started giving him blisters and he started using crutches instead. Bullshit, right? He says that using crutches had hardly any impact on his job performance, but that he was told over and over that he had to use his painful prosthetic. Under the ADA, an employer is required to reasonably accomodate a worker's disability, and it sounds quite reasonable to me that a guy use his crutches when other options for mobility cause him pain and infection.

The running joke at Consumerist all week as they've been highlighting this act is, "Don't blame the free market for this - you don't have to sign that contract." This holds some water regarding purchases, but is totally bankrupt when it applies to getting or keeping a job with a discriminatory employer. My favorite so far has been:

To those saying that this is an example of the failure of free markets, no one has ever been forced to sign an MBA. Just as capital is free to move in a free market, so is labor. The OP could have taken his labor elsewhere or not signed a contract with an MBA. Now I am in no way in favor of MBA's, but this is not a failure of the free market because we, as laborers, have the ability to take our labor elsewhere if we don't like the policies of our employers.

What I don't get is why free-market capitalists get so upset when anyone impugns the honor of the free market. Who the hell cares about your poor widdow free market when it doesn't exist? Physically moving to where you can get work with a reasonable contract is a cost that a laborer can't necessarily bear. When supply moves to accommodate demand, there's some friction. This is perfectly obvious to anyone who lives in the real world, but apparently irrelevant to dogmatic free-market capitalists who think their tautology has relevance to anyone at all. If the market were perfectly efficient and free, then it would be perfectly efficient and free. Well, okay, but let's talk about the market in which this guy is trying to find a job - where MBA clauses are ubiquetous and good luck getting that negotiated out of your employment contract.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Screw the incrementalism


The obviously calculated position that Democratic politicians take in opposing gay marriage but favoring civil unions just isn't getting anyone anywhere. I'll admit that I can sometimes be too staid and unambitious in my hopes for political progress, but I think Iowa and Maine and New Hampshire have shown the folly of concentrating on the boring stops along the way to progress. Who can get excited enough about civil unions to advocate for them anyway? Apparently hardly anyone. (Graphic lifted from Andrew Sullivan)

If they're so smart, why do they fall for that?

Medical-type-people will claim that the Ambien pen they're using doesn't influence their prescribing habits, but that's a pretty hard claim to believe when your doctor's office is so full of the plastic crap with logos all over it.

When I first got to know the workings of a lab, and had to think about inventories and what kind of microtubes I wanted to use, I was a little horrified at the stupid gimmicks supply and instrumentation companies use to advertise their wares. Naively, I thought, "Psh, we scientists aren't dumb enough to fall for that - we buy based on performance." And then, "If it didn't work, they wouldn't sink so much money into marketing."

The best lesson in the potency of branding I've learned lately is looking up brands of bath products I've long associated with wholesomeness with the Environmental Working Group's database of product safety ratings. The most counterintuitive thing I found was that Neutrogena's body oil with fragrance in it is rated as safer than the fragrance-free type. WTF. I actually like the somewhat patchouli-ish scent of the scented kind and would use it if it didn't make me sneeze all day. Also, a lot of my personal associations between brands and safety or wholesomeness were WAY off. Apparently I'm courting some pretty nasty reproductive cancers with my daily routine. My philosophy on the stuff is that if it's a cleansing product, its very purpose is to wash away, so if the few moments it spends on my skin don't bother me, I'm pretty much in the clear. Anything meant to stick to me, like a moisturizer or makeup or deodorant, I'm a bit pickier about. I tend to figure that if it doesn't bug my sensitive skin, it's pretty inert and boring.

So go ahead and terrify yourself with that search engine. Knock yourself out. It's kind of like the weird masochistic thrill everyone's been getting from the cognitive dissonance their admiration for Susan Boyle provokes in them. We knew we were superficial, but that we were this bad?

For a while in 2008, I was mildly obsessed with finding an eye cream that would reduce the puffiness around my eyes that I think will be a lifelong side-effect of the surgery I had last year. It was a fool's errand, but now I know what not to buy. For my money, nothing actually reduces puffiness except an ice pack, but the creams will make dark circles look better after a while. It was only after spending huge amounts of time scouring the shelves of drugstores that I realized how extensive the product-placement in 30 Rock actually is. I don't care if it's sarcastic - it's still product placement and kind of gross. I did think it was truly funny when Jenna got fat and Liz said of the fat-hatred directed at her, "It's like those Dove commercials never even happened."

In recognition of denying the bill of good we're constantly buying, I wanted to highlight Kevin, MD's take on doctors accepting promotional items but hiding the brands emblazoned on them. I agree that it's plain old corruption to take the perks but pretend to be above them. You hear that, Tina Fey? I'm talking to you - your "joking" product placement is no more dignified than the normal kind.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Yes, "We" can

Andrew Sullivan objects to the idea that our government isn't able to deal with more than one problem at once, but I think it's less a problem that the government can't work on enforcing the rule of law at the same time it tries to pick up the pieces of the economy, and more that the media likes one big story that bleeds. And we can hardly expect lawmakers to do anything without a camera recording their heroism, can we?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the name of Science

In an effort to stay topical, I'm going to write an Earth Day post about how I was constantly appalled at how much plastic I threw away when I worked in molecular biology. Absolutely everything needs to be treated with bizarre processes to remove any traces of nucleic acids or RNases and DNases, and then properly disposed of after use. It gets really scary when you start on high-throughput processes and have to use a dozen boxes of tips in a couple of hours.

I know I've seen the worst of it because all I did for the last five years was PCR (aka polymerase chain reaction), which is incredibly easy to contaminate and tough if not impossible to sort out once you do get contamination in equipment or workspaces.

In preparation for this post, I impotently Googled around for some info about what people are doing to make high-tech work like this more sustainable, but terrifyingly enough, there's not much out there. It's not proving a negative to say I can't find something on Google, but it's a bit eerie considering how much Googling I do on any given day.

My tendency toward guilt also reared its head when I had surgery 6 hours away and considered the environmental impact of that adventure. I had a million family members there with me (Thank you everyone!), some who flew and some caravanned with Andy and I over to Seattle from Moscow. Between all the sterilization necessary to practice medicine or perform surgery, I don't know why I haven't heard more about this. And it turns out that there are a number of organizations devoted to making hospitals more sustainable. I'm also curious about the environmental impact of manufacturing all the supplies and drugs. We know that drugs people take pass into the supply of water from which we drink, and I've got a pharmacy of leftover pills that I don't know how to dispose of. (But if you're in the mood for Decadron, and trust me, you're not, I can help you out! Just kidding)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Private industry trumps government FAIL

I was listening to a report on NPR tonight where they let Newt Gingrich whinge about using statistical sampling methods to determine population demographics for the census. His problem is that they're not counting every single head but using time-tested methods of estimation. The reporter says that it really wouldn't be worth sending a census worker to every single doorstop (or very feasible), and Newt replies that private companies like FedEx go to every single address in the nation.

Okay, well, so? If FedEx could keep a satisfied customer base without delivering all of the packages it's paid to, wouldn't market forces obligate them to let a few packages slip through the cracks? Newt can't make a satisfying argument against good sampling methods, so he plays on fears about non-white minorities as an increasing proportion of the American population. The Republican argument against efficient and accurate sampling methods clearly says, "But by God, if you miss one white family, you'll mischaracterize the entire nation!"

I'm pretty sure that Newt's been through high school, and that he damn well knows he's being disingenuous. The wide-eyed Republican who doesn't trust your high-falutin' expertise is getting pretty old, and totally transparent.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

McDonald's eaters probably have kitchens in their houses

I have to disagree with Mark Bittman. I've lately been considering ponying up and getting cable because I'd like to be able to switch on the TV and see a cooking show once in a while. My appetite has been M.I.A. for months, so eating and cooking have become a major chore. For someone who spends almost all of her time at home or the grocery store, I really don't cook or eat much. I was very often inspired by the Food Network's cooking shows when I watched them. I think I could crack this mild anorexia by pushing more ideas about food into my head so asparagus on the brain turns into asparagus on my plate.

In actuality, the reduced appetite is probably related to some of the medication I take, but not every one of my problems comes from a pill or can be solved by one.

Bittman sez:
When you watch most celebrity chefs go to work on TV it is a) baffling and intimidating, and b) a charade. Baffling and intimidating because nearly every ingredient is usually prepared in advance, and what isn’t is selected so that the chef can show off his (almost never “her”) knife skills, which are bound to intimidate nearly all of us who can never aspire (and why would we, really?) to chopping an onion with our eyes closed; his ability to make food fly in the air while cooking it; and/or his skill at presentation, which has absolutely nothing to do with taste.
Watching cooking shows has always activated my "I could do that" desire to meet a challenge. I am never going to forget when I realized that you can make macaroons instead of buying them at a store. Learning to cook is very empowering. I don't believe people when they say they can't cook - all it is is taking foods that taste good, putting them together and making it warm.

I don't actually believe that, but I say it because it's kind of funny and true enough to actually encourage people not to be intimidated. I think the reason I am good at cooking is that I turn food-related principles over in my mind long enough to be creative with them. What's sort of funny about that is how my thinking converges with classic recipes seemingly only influenced by my brilliance at combining flavors. I also really enjoy eating, and have long wondered whether my body rewards me with more/better endorphins than most people get for eating delicious things. I think this for a couple of reasons: when I am sick and eat a good meal, most of my symptoms abate for a little while immediately afterward. Also, my sense of satiety is not very keen so I frequently overeat. Now that my appetite has taken a dive, neither of these things are true and I eat a lot of convenience food so I can get the chore done as quickly as possible.

(Ironically enough, I had to step away here to eat a beautiful dinner my husband made - salad nicoise - when I was feeling too lazy to cook myself.)

Bittman writes from a perspective that appears to assume that most Americans do not cook basically any of the food they eat or have any familiarity with a kitchen or basic cooking techniques. I imagine that this editorial voice overstates the ignorance of American eaters, but stats I've seen on the subject aren't very complimentary. Fast and other prepared foods make up a large portion of the American diet, but everyone has had to dice an onion now and then, so they can judge the relative real labor that goes into one of Rachael Ray's putatively 30-minute meals.

In other words, I'm just not buying that most people are shocked and horrified to find that cooking works differently in their kitchen than in a television studio. I also think that most food writing is appallingly condescending (so it's not just Mark Bittman who's on notice here).

Back on the personal note - if anyone is concerned, I'd like to say that I've had a shakeup (no pun intended) in my medication routine and am seeing my appetite return.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Girl and her Video Games

I am terrible at video games. Ever since the advent of the third dimension, I've been hopeless. Give me a Sega Genesis and I'm gold, but the xbox is too much for me. My husband will play any game until he wins it, so I've spent a lot of time watching him play video games. Some days, I'm contended and entertained playing second fiddle like that. I've followed the plots of lots of games he's played, but I've given up trying to play myself since when you suck at games all you get is 30 seconds of being shot and then waiting for the thing to reload. It's demoralizing. I did get a Wii, hoping that its differences would make for games that I would have the ability to play, but I still struggle a little with Super Mario Galaxy.

It's interesting to consider this aspect of myself through a feminist lens, since tech and games are a world where women are often excluded. I'm not used to knowing how well I fit a stereotype, but with this one, it's pretty clear. It kind of feels like an interest in games would be a natural outgrowth of my general interest in science and technology, but here I am with my girl games, watching my spouse kill all the aliens.

There are some games that I can play and enjoy (this is a list that would very quickly be fingered as a list of games girls like). I like:

World of Goo
Katamari Damacy
No More Heroes
The Sims
Portal
The whole Soul Caliber series
The Burnout series

The rest of them feel like work to me. You'd think my period of unemployment* and stint as an invalid** would have bored me enough to put in some practice and learn to enjoy some more games, but even the ones I can handle I find to be exhausting.

*I have a feeling that this part is coming to a close, thank God.
** My health has been mostly cooperative since about September, but things have been shaken up (no pun intended) in the past few weeks. To clarify, I consider being stable on medications to be "cooperative." Back on the med-go-round I go.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

You want some representation to go along with your taxation?

Well, why not elect a few representatives, then?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Our president isn't a dog person

If he really were, he wouldn't have put the puppy off until after he became President. Watching the video, his body language pretty clearly doesn't express excitement or even comfort - more like, "You're cute but please don't get mud on my new pants." He reminds me of myself when I'm confronted with a baby - they're cute, sure, but what am I supposed to do with it? Guess I'll just keep my hands in my pockets and admire from afar...



Good "Gosh those Obama girls sure are cute" moment, but not really a video for cuteoverload.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rude pervs aren't born

Jezebel brought to my attention an interesting question about teaching kids manners in the ways of dating and sex:

Should the conversations parents have with sons about sex, manners and respect be any different than the talk they have with their daughters?

I never really thought about it before, but it's extremely strange how a lot of men act with women. The article includes comments from a woman who frequently received explicit propositions for sex from strangers - and it's really weird how men who think they are otherwise polite and normal will put strange women on the spot. What I think it comes down to is the bizarre tendency to separate "sexual morality" from "morality." You need to be polite ALL THE TIME, even when you're naked. I think people who grow up with the idea that they're being naughty and breaking rules any time they engage in sexual behavior are more likely to figure they've already crossed the line of decency by getting onto the topic of sex, and what could possibly make a difference in how much they offend someone after that Rubicon's been crossed?

An example from the past few days in my life would be when in the new Spring sun, my extremely fit neighbor was out and about shirtless, and I very obviously made a point not to stare at him. Later, it occurred to me that if I'd been out in my swimsuit (and probably only if I were more conventionally attractive), I'd expect to be unapologetically ogled by any man, without thinking much of it. In the situation where I am the nearly-naked one, I'd probably feel like I was inviting stares, as would any men hanging around at the time.

I think the same reasoning applies to men who feel entitled to proposition strange women - they feel they're being provoked by the presence of an attractive woman.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The return on treating Alzheimer's

Kevin MD linked to a sort of sensationalist post questioning the amount of money that gets poured into the care of Alzheimer's patients. I'm no stranger to extremely expensive medical interventions, but I am of the opinion that current treatments for AD don't really justify their cost. They may slow the progression of disease, but at great monetary cost, and once you start going down the AD road, you're not coming back. (I may be uninformed as to what is possible in treatment of Alzheimer's, and I'd be happy to be corrected.)

I do know from experience that clearing cognitive impairment can make you feel "better" and relieve some real suffering, so I can see how drugs or therapy affecting cognitive function - even if it can't clear the cobwebs enough to allow a patient advanced in the disease to care for him or herself - could fall under normal pallitive-type care.

Me, if I ever get a diagnosis of AD, I don't know that I'd like anyone to bother treating the Alzheimer's itself.

What I'm not conflicted about whatsoever is keeping proper medical care of Alzheimer's patients. I've never been close to someone going through the course of AD, so I'm not able to say I can sympathize with the "Just have a stroke already, Grandpa" perspective.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

I've moved on, but that doesn't change what happened

I have to admit that I found it via Fark, but this is an interesting article about people advocating on the behalf of sex offenders whose crimes exist within the range of at least icky and illegal, but in the minds of many, are not especially criminal.

My understanding is that in some states, sex offenders are registered at different levels, according to the severity of the original crime and the likelihood of reoffense. This makes perfect sense to me: rape is rape, but victims are always different, as are circumstances of the crime. The article goes out of its way to excuse statutory rape as not that bad. From where I sit, it seems like the tendency to commit such a crime is something a perpetrator would be likely to mature past, especially after being punished for it. A 23-year-old may think they have a lot in common with a 16-year-old, but they're probably not going to feel that way when they're thirty (because they don't). I was most alarmed by the work of one Jan Fewell, who looks up sex crime victims and calls them to try and recruit them to her offender's advocacy group and defend their own perpetrators by asking that they be treated leniently in light of the specific circumstances of the crimes they committed.

Fewell calls a victim and asks whether they were the victim of rape or if they'd had consensual sex. Leaving the two choices that stark seems a little manipulative to me, since a sex crime is prosecuted not for how a victim eventually comes to feel about it, but for the transgression itself.

I don't think sex offender registries do what they're supposed to do: they are said to exist to protect the communities in which sex offenders reside and work, but I think this is disingenuous. These registries exist to shame sex offenders and expose them to the vigilantism that can fit within the bounds of the law, like social stigma and employment and housing discrimination.

So a level III sex offender moves in next door. What am I supposed to do about it?

It's shameful to commit a sex offense, but I don't think forcing sex offenders into isolation and poverty really protects anyone. It might feel to most like a fitting punishment, but punishment doesn't undo or prevent crimes. Whatever a sex offender takes from a victim doesn't ever get paid back. Suffering is non-transferable.