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?"'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.