Monday, February 23, 2009

Learn it early: different is bad

If you're weird, cover it up so the kids don't have to think about it. A BBC show for small kids has recently acquired a host who has one fully-formed arm and most of the upper half of the other, and no one tries to hide this from the camera, which has upset parents on behalf of their sheltered and incurious children.

The NYT quotes comments to the BBC that I wasn't able to find myself.

A father going by the name of brightroddydoddy wrote:

I question the logic of hiring a girl with part of her arm missing (and so obviously placed on display for kids to see it) to present cbeebies. My child was immediately freaked out and didn’t want to watch. There’s a time and place for showing kids all the “differences” that people can have, but nine in the morning in front of 2 year olds is NOT the place!

Little overboard on the need for political correctness, perhaps?

I question the logic of sheltering your children from the fact that every body has idiosyncracies. Your child may be perfectly average in every way at 2, but life has a way of intervening with these things, and growing up in a world where impossible beauty is demanded of everyone has a way of making the perfectly average feel perfectly dismal.

Little overboard on the need for conformity, perhaps?

Breathe a sigh of relief, ladies: The wage gap is a myth you're using to cover up your lazy approach at the workplace

...or so says Benjamin Ledford of the UI Argonaut:

Thankfully, I do not have to wonder about these claims anymore, because it turns out pay discrimination between the sexes is not the problem some would make it out to be. The Institute of Economic Affairs, a British think-tank, recently published a report that found British women between the ages of 22 and 29 who were employed full-time earned only 1 percent less than their male coworkers. Writers for the news magazine The Economist (not a right-wing publication) pointed out that for many women, this is the age when they are single, and, after marrying, they no longer need to impress anyone, whereas men are more likely to continue to connect their success to their paycheck.

I know that once I got married, I didn't care if everyone thought I was low-earning dirt. But why stop at 29? In 2004, the median age at which an American woman gave birth to her first child was 25. So most American women ages 22-29 aren't going to have children and second-shift caretaking falling to them to manage outside of work.

To think I worried that it was simply by virtue of my gender that I could anticipate less earning in my lifetime. Silly me! Only when I make the choice to have children and fail spectacularly at balancing work and home life do I pay the price in my wages. Earning money and financial independence? Sounds like a good thing to opt out of.

Take it away, Ben:

Additionally, the IEA report found women were more likely than men to choose a career in public or voluntary service, which typically pays less, and, of course, women were more likely to choose to leave the workforce to raise their families instead.
Thanks to the coincidence that men happen to contribute less to family caretaking responsibilities, their careers do not take a hit after they begin having children. Cleverly, they still care what people think about them and don't stop competing in the workplace once they've earned the only prize in life that matters: a spouse.

*Just a personal note about the editorial framing style where the writer pretends to care about a problem that affects others and is then relieved to discover they were worried about nothing: quit it. You had me all concerned about your struggle to understand why the world was making you worry over nothing, but the sympathy was fleeting. I'd appreciate the busting of the myth that college editorial writers cherry-pick and equivocate their way out of honestly exploring what the facts mean to the people who live them, but I'm not going to hold my breath while good ol' Ben's got a job at the Arg.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When you're up agaist Sauron, it's hard to lose a popularity contest

Time has a great article about the very real campaign against the non-existent Freedom of Choice Act. I thought this passage was especially interesting:

Still, FOCA is proving to be the perfect political issue for anti-abortion advocates — and for congressional Republicans, who have taken up the cry as well. Unless and until FOCA is voted on by Congress, they can invoke it as a looming threat. And the longer it remains a dormant issue, the more credit they can take for their own "proactive" efforts to "defeat FOCA," as a letter from House Republicans to Cardinal Rigali on Tuesday put it.
I'm reminded of a time when I got into an argument over the fictional procedure now commonly referred to as "partial-birth abortion," and was told that I was just unable to face the truth that partial-birth abortion is real and widespread and legally-condoned infanticide.

I thought that was a pretty weird tack to take - that I wanted to preserve my illusions about abortion; why why WHY would I want to do that? If PBA is/was legally-sanctioned infanticide on a whim, what would I get out of opposing the ban? I am pro-choice, and I support any woman's freely-chosen abortion. Like almost anyone, I would love to see the need for abortion reduced or eliminated. I think of abortion as a treatmen for the symptom of the underlying disease of unwanted pregnancy. Alleviating symptoms of disease is great, but it's sure better to be able to forego the disease to begin with.

Advocates for choice and health were thrilled when Obama rescinded the Global Gag Rule, which not only left women's health underserved worldwide by denying funding to groups who provide abortion referrals, but abortion itself is on occasion medically-necessary so it's kind of counter-productive for pro-choice folk to rely on the non-abortion medical services that are denied under GGR-type regulations.

It's that type of silence on the issue of actual abortions that makes crusades against fictional abortion legislation so constructive for anti-choice organizations. Faux-outrage is a tool we don't need to keep handing over to political opponents, which is why I was kind of glad when Alito was nominated for the Court, and the word "abortion" started being used again in public discourse. When we all thought the right to abortion was perfectly safe forever, no one would actually talk about what abortion is and why women choose it. Since I was a kid I have constantly been told that debating issues surrounding abortion is fruitless, because people are too emotional about it and won't ever listen or actually engage in conversation. The Bush era abortion fights were really instructive to me, since it gave me a chance to test my preconceived notions about the issue against the arguments of others, and I realized how many of these deeply-held beliefs that are so taboo that people won't argue them aren't very well-thought-through.

Being accused of pushing for infanticide for no good goddamn reason gave me a lot of insight into what anti-choicers imagine goes on in my head. It's a good lesson that when you imagine your political opponents getting caught up in a completely irrational emotional jumble, you're probably wrong about what they're thinking. If "it's in the Bible," is your argument, you don't really have an argument. The religion wall behind which people can hide their inexplicable and irrational beliefs probably makes it hard for people who oppose abortion for religious reasons to understand that I believe things for reasons that have explanations referring to the world in which we all live. It's not turtles all the way down. I can accept that people take moral dictates from religious traditions to which I do not subscribe, but I don't have to think it's wise or meaningfully defensible.

I can only conclude that stirring up constituents with the threat of FOCA relies on extremely poor modeling of what pro-choice is and what advocates for choice believe. There's also the extremely poor modeling of what a FOCA would do:

While the USCCB's literature about FOCA has been generally accurate, the chain e-mail has disseminated a number of false claims, including warnings that the proposal would force Catholic hospitals to shut down and lead to at least 100,000 more abortions each year. Some versions of the e-mail even claimed that FOCA could "result in a future amendment that would force women by law to have abortions in certain situations — and even regulate how many children women are allowed to have."
It's like the weird lies about gay marriage that were thrown around this year in CA: when church and state are separate, they're separate. I was civilly married, but not religiously. My civil marriage doesn't reach backwards into the church and suck the religion out of other religious marriages.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If it's already broke, don't break it more

It was really annoying to watch stem cell therapy get so heavily oversold in the 06 election cycle. Stem cell therapy seems to me like a fantastic way to give people cancer, and it turns out (registration required) that it is, at least in a recent case. Cancer is when your cells decide they're just going to keep reproducing past what the rest of your body can stand, and messing with the signals your body long ago relied on to stop making more of you strikes me as pretty dangerous - especially in the case of brain tissue.

Basically, if your brain keeps growing when you're out of the womb, your brain is growing cancer. A lot of brain cancer occurs in very young children, when the process of stopping the proliferation of brain tissue is critical, and prone to error. Introducing non-native cells that will proliferate according to signals out of sync with what is going on in the rest of your body strikes me as extremely dangerous. When the rest of your body is letting your cerebral tissue degenerate, what is in-sync is already quite dangerous, but trading a degenerative disease for a malignant cancerous one doesn't make things much better.

But hey, I can't blame people for trying. Or give up on the idea after seeing a case report.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Land's End Swimsuits for mutants

We've all been disappointed by women's mags that promise fashion advice for every bod, but only deliver on the thin-and-curvy or thin-and-not-so-curvy.

I got a new Land's End catalog today and noticed their system for indicating which of their swimsuits flatter which body types - I could figure most of it out, where the upside-down triangle was meant to symbolize the top-heavy bather, the rectangle a not-so-curvy gal, and the normal triangle the bottom-heavy. I had to look closer at the star, because I was not sure which human body is going to fit into a suit with radial symmetry. Supposedly a suit accompanied by a star looks good on any human female.

Fatties have been singing the praises of Land's End swimwear for quite a while now, but if you're in need of advice, I'll share that I got a suit from LE a couple of years ago and still adore it, even though a dip in an extremely-chlorinated hotel pool did a number on the coloration. It's been a long time since I've been comfortable doing anything at all without wearing a bra, but my LE suit serves my boobs well on camping trips where I want to be swim-ready all day.

Darn those desperate banks

It really creeps me out how many "checks" written with my name on them that are sent to me in the mail by credit cards with which I do not necessarily have an account. I'm not normally very easily spooked when it come to identity theft, but this just seems like a BAD IDEA. I've been getting them regularly for years, so I assume they haven't become a liability due to fraud or theft. Maybe I should use one to buy a paper shredder.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"Health needs"

I was listening to a radio show where some anti-choice guy was complaining about the lifting of the Global Gag Rule, but confessing that he was learning more about the "health needs" that weren't being met just because of the GGR. Like it or not, sometimes abortion itself is necessary to protect the health of a pregnant mother. (If you're John McCain, it's "health" and not health.)

People like to ignore the way that abortion is used medically to maintain women's health, and it leads to ignorant impositions on bodily autonomy. Giving in to that pressure gives credence to the idea that abortion is extremely rare and only needed by the stupid and irresponsible, so you don't have to worry about it, oh no.

I posted this video about the GGR the other day, and it plays along with the abortion is for weirdos and idiots framing by completely ignoring its role in the lives of so many women. Thinking about the video in that light, I am less impressed by it.

Big Nutra's direct-to-consumer scams

Feministing pulled a post about the "feminine" aspects of naturopathic medicine to post on the front page, and I am quite the skeptic of alternative medicine, but I was also annoyed at the "conventional medicine is patriarchal and for lame men who might as well spend all their money on useless, dangerous treatements and get sick and die while their doctor is being a jerk to them" vibe.

ericamatluck said:

Historically, women's voices have been excluded from medicine. Medical research has been conducted by men, for men. There was actually a time when hysterectomies were performed because women were considered "hysterical". Although we have seen progress with regard to women's involvement in medicine, the situation remains inadequate. Our understanding of pathology is based on how a condition presents in a man. This understanding is applied to women, ignoring the fact that we have a unique chemical and structural composition, and may respond differently to the same pathology.
This brings up real problems with medicine as it's been applied to caring for women, but is not any kind of argument for naturopathy as feminine, and therefore more-suited to female patients.

The comments erupted into a huge flamewar over "natural," "homeopathic," and "herbal" medicine, which seem to be used interchangeably. "Natural" is a marketing term that basically means nothing (see"all-natural" on the side of the bag of chips you're eating), and homeopathy is truly superstition-based and ridiculous. Homeopathy relies on an essential characteristic of a substance being imbued upon a diluent, even as the substance is diluted to minute, if even still present strengths.

Ever hear about the homeopath that drank a glass of water?

He died of an overdose.

I'm not really clear on the difference between "natural" and "herbal," but I'll bet a Venn diagram where the "herbal" circle was completely encompassed by the "natural" circle would represent that relationship. I've spent almost a solid year working to straighten out some medical problems, mostly with conventional doctors and pharmaceuticals. When things began, I really didn't have much capability to decide what I should do. I basically just did what doctors told me to do at first.

I've since warmed up a little to "alternative" medical practices, since hey, I don't mind taking a few vitamins or other substances that I know won't hurt me (ie valerian or hops or fish oil). I also usually run a search on pubmed with any new snake-oil-ish thing I'm considering trying.

Googling anything medical is almost always a disaster. If it's not on pubmed, it's someone trying to sell you something. I've learned that there are no bigger conspiracy theorists than people who have chronic, incurable diseases.

The thing I saw over and over again in the thread on Feministing that I thought was weird was all of the "pharma's corrupt, but try my $30 bottle of fish oil tablets" kind of stuff. You don't get the kind of exclusive manufacturing rights for a naturally-occurring substance, but people selling omega-everything are sure making themselves some money.

People are rightly suspicious of pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer advertising, but the same branding and appeals to emotions are applied to the overpriced supplement products. They don't make as much money as Pfizer, but they don't have the same liabilities either.

I don't think there's anything more consumer-friendly in the business of wringing the oil out of fish and putting it in little caplets, than there is in the business of creating novel compounds and testing them against diseases/symptoms, and then manufacturing and selling them.

With substances that aren't exclusively owned and manufactured by one entity, there's room for competition, which can open up the field to better-produced or plain better products. I bought a bottle of cheap fish-oil supplements, and the fish burps were in-freaking-tolerable.

This phenomenon has played out with generics of brand-name hits, and there are definite preferences for different generics. Generics aren't actually required to be precisely equivalent to brand-name drugs (they have to be within 80%, to my knowledge), so lots of people stick with their brand-name greatest hits drugs. I'm sure that competing in the supplement marketplace is a lot like competing amongst generics. You're all selling the same substance, but you need to make some kind of superficial distinction between yours and theirs. Make a supplement that is branded such that people feel good about buying it, and have an advantage such as convenience or user-modifiability. I've taken two generic forms of Ambien, and the first I took was a pill in an oblong shape that was easily broken in half so I could use a half-dose if I wanted. I preferred it to the one I currently have, that's tiny and unsplittable. They both do what they're supposed to do, but it's not efficacy on which I am basing my preference. I once had the birth control pills I was taking switch to a generic, and I switched back to the brand at my own expense(despite being made fun of by the pharmacist), because the generics really didn't feel right - I'd started a new type of pill when I was having really terrible menstrual cramps, and the new pill cleared that right up. They came back with the generic, and I'm not going to take birth control pills about which I feel iffy.