Monday, March 31, 2008

Bead Bullocks

Let's say you're a kumquat farmer with a crop of enough kumquats to form a line from one end of the Great Wall to the other. You're crouched down, still constructing your bright orange line of juicy beads when you realize you're mid-Mongolia and still haven't found a decent market for your tiny delights. You just don't understand how people couldn't catch on--they did with the pomegranate, that sissy of a fruit with an anus-shaped sprout and wussy little red seeds. Then your reach a Confucian-like epiphany: you ask yourself: How can I make people realize how wonderful and beneficial my fruit is, so that I can make a profit?

1. People like exotic/alternative/new age and different things.
2. People like "natural" remedies, even if they're enhanced with chemicals.
3. People are easily persuaded by "scientific" studies.
4. People like numbers, percentages, and doctor recommendations.

So your little kumquat dream can soon become a reality--all you need is a kumquat-obsessed doctor, a few small piles of research grant money, and a couple kumquat advocate test-dummies, and you've got yourself a legitimate pitch for kumquat supremacy. Before you know it, Oprah is extolling the fruit's greatness, and having celebrities tumble on her couch with squirt bottles of your newly minted Kumquat Quench lifted in triumph between the healthy jumps so vigorous even their surgically enhanced breasts jiggle. Your commercials praise the natural rejuvenatory qualities of a good kumquat enriched diet, with "facts" from your study to back up the claims. All is well and good--people don't know that your study was conducted by you, for the sole purpose of fashioning the study and results so that no other outcomes but positive ones could be reached. Granted, kumquats won't kill you--but they certainly might have been as advantageous if they we squashed against the side of the Great Wall, to give it a bit of color.

So what happens when this type of marketing and branding technique, which is overtly flawed, enters into the arena of public health and awareness campaigns? What happens when the private interests, and family values agenda, seep into scientific study? Well, in short, nothing good. Apply the aspects of the above example to this story on so-called "natural birth control" and it's effectiveness.

First, let's look at this story on the pure surface of the reporting, without digging deeper into the source or accuracy of the data (which will come next). Here's a quote from the article:
Family planning groups, health ministries and community development organizations introduced SDM at 14 different sites in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Problem: These groups are already targeted towards people who would rather really try this method. As a rule of thumb, any health organization called a "ministry" inevitably is tied to a religious organization of some sort. Also, look at the testing sites: Latin America leads the group, and Latin American is heavily Christian. Also, there are many studies of African reproductive health that report that religion sponsored programs of celibacy are not effective in preventing the spread STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Since this "family planning" method is based on abstinence for at least eight to twelve days a month, it flies in the face of other proven tests.
Problem #2 with the article, shown in this quote:
There were 14.1 pregnancies for every 100 women per year of use of the method, which was comparable to the 12 pregnancies per 100 woman years found in a 2002 clinical trial of the method.
Does ANYONE think that 14 out of a 100 is a GOOD, LOW number? 14% of ALL women using this method would get pregnant. Contraception such as the pill and even just a condom have up to a 99% effectiveness rate. That means, used correctly, women on the pill have a LESS THAN 1% shot of becoming pregnant (verses 14 out of 100 with the beads) So how can they endorse this method?

Problem #3 (And perhaps the most pernicious of all):
"Men reported being very satisfied with the method, and a significant number of men reported being involved in some way in helping their partner to use this method," she noted, for example reminding a woman to move the marker on the beads or making sure to have condoms available on a woman's fertile days.
While it's a lovely sentiment that men are "supportive" of this method, it is absolutely delusional to think that men are supportive for the reason implied--that women would be free to discard hormone-shifting pills and be more in tune with her cycle. Fact: Men absolutely hate using condoms. No one can blame them, it's like putting an oven mitt over your back massager. But this is awful--truly, because not only does it suggest a fabricated and completely unsafe form of preventing pregnancy, it disregards the notion that women should shield themselves from STDs.
The rhetoric of "family planning" should have been the first clue: the whole idea that planning for a family can also mean planning not to have a child is ridiculous in the first place--it merely implies, through it's title that "it's okay not to want a child now, but you should have many many babies, and hey, if those darn beads don't work, well, take out your other set (the rosary) and pray your husband will get that big promotion so you can sit barefoot and pregnant without a care (or original thought) for the rest of your natural existence." Those two words sure say a lot.

Okay, now on to the not so obvious stuff. This study was conducted by the very same people who manufacture, market, and sell the "cyclebeads." They sell from anywhere between $14 - $40 a pop. Oh, and did we mention that the 2002 study, performed by Dr. Jennings, the same woman who oversees the research and is the head of the reproductive health center that sells the cyclebeads and teaches the methods, acknowledged the help of the following in her study:

"The authors are particularly grateful to our field collaborators:
Dr. Saleg Eid, Catholic Relief Services, Bolivia...

The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of USAID or Georgetown University. The Standard Days Method and CycleBeads are
trademarks owned by the Georgetown University Institute
for Reproductive Health. CycleBeads are patent pending."

Hmmmm. Those kumquats sure seem stupid now, don't they?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Truth, the Nineteenth Century Novel, and Women

Jill Lepore wrote a piece on all three topics, (and memoir, historians, etc.) in last week's new yorker.
Her ability to weave in the scholarship with insightful quotes from some of the best novels ever (pardon the rather ungracious nod to favorite authors such as Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft) was exceptional.

The article, tracks the patterns of presentation of three distinct, yet intersecting genres: the novel, the memoir, and the historical treatise. Lepore explains how in the late 18th and most of the 19th centuries, "histories" were often what we would today consider fictitious novels, and memoirs were a mere twinkle in a historian's eye. The intellectuals of the day, especially during the 19th century, were of the prevailing notion that "history" as a concept was flawed--there was no way to completely and accurately report historical facts without the skewing of perspective by the author, and the reliance on the accuracy of second-source texts. In a sense, history became a memoir or portrait of the one who was writing it. Lepore quotes Jane Austen's juvenilia, The History of England, to prove her assertion. Austen wrote that the history was in fact written by "a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant historian." Of course, this was Austen, and her acuity for an acerbic pen was spot on at all times--she is here flexing her sarcastic muscle.

Lepore is correct in explaining the nineteenth century novel. In many novels, the readers are asked to believe the stories presented are "based in fact" or "histories" of people's lives--and often the lives of the "ordinary" or "lesser." Pick up many a book written during that longish time span, and you will see not a fiction outright, but frames. For example: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The entire story is told by a ship captain's letters, writing at sea, who is retelling the story of Dr. Frankenstein. Charlotte Bronte's stories are often told as if the life histories had already occurred, and the "dear reader" is learning of them at the end of the writer's life. The same goes for Dickens, most notably in David Copperfield. One doesn't even have to look too far back to find these interesting frames or layers that synthesize reality--take Jame's Turn of the Screw. It is told by a man to a group of others, relying the story from an observer. Wuthering Heights is a collection of historical artifacts that a visitor to the Moors learns piecemeal from maids and Heathcliff himself--the story is already over, and in fact--in the past.

Lepore then goes on to make the distinction that although people realized that novels were essentially "made up," they had a higher claim of "truth" which rose above the mere pittance of "historical fact." The nineteenth century was obsessed with getting to the essential truths, and the people of the age weren't so easily deluded to believe that the history books, or the newspapers would provide them. The 19th century novel, unlike any other time, was a philosophical and symbolic journey. Philosophy also pivots on the same messy ground between fact and truth. The prove-ability of novels? Slim. The disprove-ability of the truth novels and philosophy supplies? Also very difficult. Like psychoanalysis (but much more enjoyable and enriching), the structure of novels have a system built into them that does not allow the reader to deny its influence--there is an explanation for everything.

Lepore explains that novels in the 19th century were primarily written for women, about women, and many times, by women--whereas, in supposedly direct opposition history was written in the majority by men, for men, and about great men. History was seen as the "serious" work of literature, whereas fiction and novels was seen as the softer, frivolous type. To some extent--this is still "true" (or perhaps a better word would be "fact") today. Although, it's surprising that 19th century novels, even some written by women, have hit the mainstream in college syllabi. But ask anyone today, and they will tell you history is a more serious subject than novels. Yet it remains that novels allow the reader a wonderful historical perspective into the lives of the "average" (though that depends on your definition of average) people living during the 19th century. That's why novels were so much more popular and enjoyable--they functioned as both familiar (in the fashioning of everyday lives of everyday people) and extraordinary (in the expressive ways that novels transmuted the mundane into the dramatic). Was Maggie Tulliver depicted all that different in The Mill on the Floss from the other farm people--running about as a child, snipping off her hair and toiling for her family?

What is bothersome about Lepore's qualification of these nineteenth century realities is that she posits the feminine with "truth" and the historical fact with the masculine. Yes, this is probably a correct estimation of how people felt in the 19th century, as shown by such essays and writings that denounced fiction and asked women to read history instead. But today, history is still targeted towards men, and novels and fiction are largely assumed to be read by women. This is simple the promulgation of 19th century myth. William Goodwin once said that when men wrote novels, it was "a symptom of effeminacy." If genres are indeed "gendered" it is probably more a mistake of verbal aphasia or dyslexic tick with the similarity of the words "genre" and "gender" than it is based in any hard facts. (and why are "facts" hard? and "truths" soft?) Why do they have to coincide with the "appropriate gender". Doris Kearns Goodwin is a brilliant historian among many other female historians, and there are many popular male fiction writers--Stephen King, etc. Why do we still give in to this notion that women deal in ideals and men in historical certainty? I think its the critics that need to get their heads out of the clouds. Luckily, the tide is turning, and more histories are coming out about women and influential female figures, and likewise, men are writing fiction about ordinary men. Again--we should look to the androgynous ideals of Virginia Woolf, when it comes to fiction.

Friday, March 21, 2008

And we should keep out, who?

From The New York Times, this article deserves attention, considering a revitalized interest in US immigration law. Just who are the victims, and why is it so easy to say "illegal immigrant" in the face of such illegal activities on the government side?

Fabulous NYCLU Event


Please attend this event. It's only $20, and ALL proceeds go to support the New York City Young Professionals Chapter of the Civil Liberties Union. This specific event will enable students and young advocates to make the trip up to Albany and lobby in support of the annual LGBT Equality and Justice Day (to help win marriage equality, non-discrimination protections, safe schools for LGBT youth, and more funding for LGBT health and human services needs). Plus it will be a riotous good time!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What's on your plate, sexy?

This morning was an uninspired one, so the prevailing notion was not to post. But lo and behold, when you hope for outrageous material, it is oft thrown your way like an unwanted encomium of 100 calorie packs or homemade beef jerky.

Speaking of things that leave a bad aftertaste, and are leathery and un-digestible, a new study was conducted and reported on this morning, with results that discuss the "different gender preferences" for certain foods.

In one literary swoop, let's place this study in the location it belongs: the scientific and sociological gutter.

First, let's address this opening assertion:
"If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then Mars is a land where the refrigerators are stocked with meat and frozen pizza and Venus has a bounty of yogurt, fruits and vegetables, a new study suggests."

If the SEXES (not "genders") are from different planets, than we would all more likely appreciate the taste of Tang and Moon Cheese. Thankfully, the sexes are both from earth, and the variations of taste preferences among the sexes are far vaster than those between the sexes. By suggesting different planets, and implying the old adage of "opposite sexes" this report (and probably the study) has determined their findings even before they began. By theorizing that there is an inherent difference between men and women's food preferences, the research has set itself up as biased. Also, the study hearkens back to the old idea that men hunted while women foraged for berries... so naturally the delicate women must enjoy the light vegetative delights, while big strong men need rip through the carcass of something newly slaughtered. Thus, men like meat and women like yogurt. You couldn't diverge in comparisons more.

Now, you might be saying, "well--perhaps this is true, and perhaps men do prefer and eat more meat, and women spoon up more yogurt?" The report, in terms of studying the actual amount of each item each sex eats, might be relatively accurate. What is objectionable in this study, and the way it has been reported, is the implications it makes about the sexes, or "gender"--a societal construction reinforced by studies like this. The problem with this study/report is that it implies, rather overtly, that "gender" and/or sex is the main determinant of differences in food choice. But truly, it is the socially constructed views on "gender difference" that helped make this study palatable for some. Somehow, this study is suggesting that your vagina or your penis is telling you what to eat. Maybe studies haven't been done on this, but it's pretty much recognized that we all usually use our mouths and taste buds to eat, not our reproductive organs; and the idea that hormones predispose us to to eat certain things depending on our sex--well that's more mythical than sweet ambrosia.

Reinforced gender stereotypes are the true cause of this study's results. Society tells us, beginning when we are very small, what to eat, and how to eat it. But it's not just the food--it's what the food means based on our sex, and all the other notions of gender that will come to affect what we do and do not put into our mouths. Young girls are told to have proper etiquette, take smaller bites, eat slowly, "watch what they eat," etc. Young boys, while maybe they are not allowed to eat like complete animals, are given more leeway to be messy and romp about while flinging things in their mouths. Also, girls are encouraged much more to keep their clothes clean, and not spill; whereas food stains, like grass stains, are generally a par for the young boy's daily course. So from the very beginning, society has predetermined what should happen-- and these are learned behaviors taught by the grown-ups. Here's a quote from "The Political Nature of Human Nature" (in Theoretical Perspectives on Sexual Difference, Yale University Press, 1990)to explain the argument more bluntly:

"If society put half its children into short skirts and warns them not to move in ways that reveal their panties, while putting the other half in jeans and overalls and encouraging them to climb trees, play ball, and participate in other vigorous outdoor games; if later, during adolescence, the children who have been wearing trousers are urged to 'eat like growing boys' while the children in skirts are warned to watch their weight and not get fat; if the half in jeans runs around in sneakers or boots, while the half in skirts totters about on spike heels, then these groups of people will be biologically as well as socially different." (my italics)

So, the biological may exist to a degree, but it was forcibly imposed by gender stereotypes.

The next problem with this study is almost too blatantly obvious to explain: each adult is likely to answer in ways that reinforce the gender stereotypes, because the majority don't want to seem "odd" , or non-gender-conformist. Men know that to be seen as "truly masculine" they have to say they love meat, pizza, and beer--even if they occasional savor a cone of fro-yo or fruit salad. Women, who want to be seen as a good nutritional role-model for their "feminine gender" will say yogurt or salad, even if they like a good steak or some extra hot buffalo wings. Even on the phone, those 14,000 people are likely to answer with what their questioners would like to hear (and after all, the government could be tapping in, so make sure nobody's promoting "gender-stereotype terrorism"). The watch-lists we all have out on those people who refuse to fit the gender mold is much more fearsome for your average, everyday joe or judy.

Towards the end, the report says: "Shiferaw said she could not explain some of the odder findings, like why men eat more asparagus than women."
Calling this finding "odder" suggests that since men must naturally despise most vegetables, assuming that it doesn't fit into the predetermined male-female designated food choices. Might it be suggested that the preference for asparagus could actually fit into a male-gender-stereotype. The only thing these biased researchers would have to do is make some well placed comments about the Washington monument, or, rather less covertly, phallic imagery. They've already implied that when women do prefer a hamburger, it is fully cooked, as opposed to men, who would rather that their meat was still mooing, and they tore it up in large gulps to further signify the blood-thirsty barbarians that they truly are. Thor want meat!

Commercials, food packaging, everything is targeted towards a gendered audience. No wonder we assume its biology--we can't get past the labels!

hmm, could that be a macho fighter pilot on my frozen pizza? Somehow, eating this pizza will magically transform me into a heroic World War I flying ace!

The image is too small - but if you look on the upper left corner of the Activa box, you can see a lovely, slender female stomach. While there may be guys who have a "yogurt porn" fetish--surely this is nothing more than pandering to the "feminine" problem of body image.

Inevitably, it is society, and not any biological determinants that make food preferences an overwhelming reality. The packaging is not reinforced by "gender difference"--the packaging and marketing itself reinforces a gender difference first imposed through social hierarchies.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Anniversary: ORIGIN: Middle English: from Latin anniversarius, 'returning yearly', from 'annus' (year) + versus 'turning'

Most anniversaries in individual lives are joyous ones. They are celebrated in greater grandeur as the years tick by. The numbers, 25 years, 50 years, are associated with milestones, happy memories, and the occasional gift giving or standard upper middle class yuppie cruise holiday tour.
The war is five years decrepit today, and as the years have ticked by, the grandeur has expanded only in death and unrest. The milestones set for the Iraq "government" are nowhere near met. The memories of injured soldiers will probably develop into PTSD and the government won't pay for their treatment. The gift to all has been a downturn in US status worldwide: philosophically, morally, and now economically. The only gifts that will be distributed are Red Cross supplies to war-stricken, displaced Iraqis; the only cruises that of soldiers on their way to the Middle East, stoplost.

Let's make a special effort to remember that there are still wars going on, and not be so self-centered to only focus on domestic economics--especially with the elections coming up. If we didn't know that republicans love their money so much, it's almost conceivable to think that right-wingers helped cause the 'recession' in order to help their chances in the election (because republicans pride themselves on financial acuity, warranted or no)

A quick anniversary numbers round-up:
US Military Dead (since 2003): over 3,990
Taxpayer money spent: $500 billion

Current # of US Troops in Iraq: 158,000 (should drop to "pittance" of 140,000 by summer)
Total US soldiers wounded in Iraq: 29,395
Iraqis killed: over 60,000 (and those are low estimates)

* Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard University public finance expert Linda Bilmes have estimated the eventual cost at $3 trillion when all the expenses, including long-term care for veterans, are calculated.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stare Tactics (NYC Phenomena #1)

NYC Phenomena Series
(This series of articles highlights the intricacies and idiosyncrasies from the rather unseasoned observer of the natural New York City urban habitat, in all it's agony and glory)

One thing you learn quite quickly in New York is that eye contact is your forbidden mistress. You look at adverts or read a book or sleep on subways, you stare straight down on sidewalks, and you never look at someone crossing the road in the opposite direction--if it's absolutely necessary to look up and see someone's countenance, you only stare ahead as if looking through them, miles forward, to a place where they conveniently don't exist. If you do happen to catch the eyes of say a fellow passenger or street stranger, they will do one of two things: continue to stare at you the whole time (causing serious anxiety from the fear of being abducted, stabbed, or otherwise), or they will give you a glance of absolute abhorrence, followed by a turn away that signifies the total abandonment of accepting you as a member of the human race. Neither is a chosen happy consequence, and so the majority of New Yorkers, save your panhandlers and those who wandered out the psych ward, adhere to the rule of no eye contact. That's fine in a city that does have a large percentage of weird, scary, and quite literally mentally unstable people mixed in with the rest of them.

But for all a New Yorker's obsession with non-ocular communion, there is one
sacrilegious activity commonly practiced, all day long, everywhere. We're talking about the stare down. This "stare down," or alternatively "stare up" is somewhat consistent with the aforementioned lack of eye contact because eye contact is not a prerequisite of the technique. Let's highlight it's attributes, shall we?

The Stare Up, or Stare Down takes on two forms. First, it can start with the visual scan of the feet, and move up to at least the torso or neck, or alternatively, the stare can begin around the neck or torso, and scan downwards. (There is no conclusive evidence that either starting point signifies any sort of feet or neck preference.) Second, the "Starer" as we shall call them, slowly and deliberately moves their eyes either up or down, taking in your body, clothes, demeanor, posture, etc. It's like an eye-based x-ray, except the results can only report on the clearly superficial. Third, the result. By the end of the Stare Up or the Stare Down, the starer will have made a value judgment of the "staree." A cold glance, or grimace, never bodes well, and usually translates into a mute "who do you think you are," or "god, what the hell?" A smile, on the other hand, either signals that the person has been caught in the act of the stare down and is embarrassed and trying to make a mends, or they are sexually attracted to you, or Platonically approving of you.

The rules of the stare up or down complicate depending on the respective sexes of the starer and staree. Results aren't conclusive, but heterosexual men are either much better at hiding the stare down of other men, or they don't usually stare at men as much, unless in a directly competitive situation. This seems stereotypical and gender-biased, but unfortunately, we have noted that a larger majority of New Yorkers seem to adhere more to gender stereotypes than we are happy to admit. Any situation in which straight men stare down women, straight women stare at men, lesbians stare at women, and gay men stare at men, can be seen as less of a New York practice than just more of your average sexual pursuit--and usually these stares are only completed if the starer likes what they see. They usually end in approving nods or flashy smiles.

No, what really gets our proverbial goat is the aggressive stare up or down. Coming from a female staree perspective, the amount of other female starers far outweighs the male starers. Yes, the man handing out papers by the subway entrance every morning gives an approving nod and says "good morning beautiful," to all women he stares at, but that is not anywhere near as offensive as the cold stare downs regularly received from other women, usually while walking down the street. These are purely driven by competition-- and they usually take on a sinister aspect. After the full body scan, the starer's eyes are disconnected and disapproving. In fact, take any positive word, place the prefixes "dis" or "un" in front, and that's an accurate estimation of how you think you're being perceived, and how the starer wants you to feel. The competitive nature of New York is understandable--people compete for jobs, for apartments, for lovers, for the last ticket to Rent--you name it. But why do we insist on competing every second, even during the most mundane activities, and in an area where clearly there is no winner, and who would even care if there was? Now, the starer is not the only one in this equation--a staree is responsible for how they themselves feel, and the only who can make you feel rotten is yourself (usually). And by observing who does the stare up and stare down, it's quite easy to tell who lives and works in NYC, and who is a tourist (although usually the I Love NY t-shirts and fold-able street maps are another glaring giveaway).

NYC is not known to be a city of brethren or "sisthren", and it seems after a while of occupancy, everyone starts to conform to the same localized New York city norms. The stare is reinforced, and reinforces all the other competitive drives of the city, and that large and ravenous animal is not going out to pasture anytime soon. If only, instead of staring in disapproval, we could really see what was around us. Competition is good, but it has it's limits, and usually that limit is right around the boundary
between joviality and anger.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Your moment of hormonal zen

"During those days immediately preceding her menstrual period (i.e. the infamously nicknamed 'PMS'), a woman's estrogen level drops to it's lowest point in the monthly cycle. Thus, just before menstruation, women, at least hormonally, more closely resemble men than at any other point in their cycle. Perhaps, then, the only sensible purely biological solution would be to have every corporation, government office, and--especially--military operation run by gay men, whose levels of testosterone would presumably be low enough to offset the hormone's propulsion toward aggression, while they would also be immune to the 'raging hormonal influences' of PMS."
-The Gendered Society, Michael S. Kimmel

p.s. - for those who don't realize it, this means that during PMS, women are hormonally controlled by testosterone. This means that if a woman is "PMS-ing", she is truly just acting like an everyday male (regardless of the time of the month).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

girls, gays, minorities, and everyone else: keep it in your pants.

Gender, race, and sexual orientation inequalities run around naked all day for everyone to observe, all over the world (though many turn a blind, scandalized eye). But one rather juicy piece of exposed, bigoted flesh should get some extra ogling today, after a recent CDC report. It elucidates the inequality of gender-, race-, and orientation-based health tests/studies. Invariably, these tests are not only biased, they are blatantly so; in turn, the media reports and methods of prevention and reform are also skewed towards unequal and unfair consideration.

The latest report, which came out this week, details the CDC's finding that among US teenage women, 1 in 4 have some sort of STD. Those reported STDs ranged from chlamydia, to HPV, to HIV/AIDS. HPV, as many media outlets have been clear about reporting in the past year or so, is the virus that can lead to cervical cancer --obviously a disease that only effects those of us with cervices. But men are at least "carriers" of all the diseases listed (though with most STDs, men suffer the same symptoms as women).

The way the CDC, and those reporting this supposedly news worthy story, is the first issue. It's not "roughly 25% of teenage women," it's not "One-fourth of the female teenage population," or anything of that nature. They make this study personal: One in Four Teenage Girls. (and this is how practically every media outlet is phrasing it) Let's break this down. "One in Four": this implies proximity. Not one-fourth, which suggests a fraction, which by definition means only a part. By saying "one in four" the reader (and especially the white male reader) is implored to consider the obvious: "think of four women--you know quite a few. Well, one might have the clap." Next, consider "teenage girls". The term "girls" suggests that these sexually active women can't possibly take care of their own sexual health. This is the best type of fear mongering we've seen in a while: it not only admonishes young women, it scares parents, potential sexual partners, and women themselves. The article practically screams: "Why, don't you see: these young "girls" shouldn't be trusted to make their own decisions about their sexual lives. They've gone and mucked up all the boys' fun."
But the problem with this saddening study (because 25% of teens with STDs IS saddening) is that it completely disregards the male aspect of this report. Doing a quick search on the CDC website, and special section on STD prevention, you can find reports on women, and the general population as a whole, and minorities, and studies broken out based on sexual orientation. What you cannot find is a good study on the rates of STDs among your average, straight, white males. Hmmm. Why is it that we place the research blame on women and minorities and gays? In the study, it also highlights how black women have an even higher risk of STDs. What about white and black men? Why is it solely the responsibility of the woman to get tested for STDs, as the CDC heartily recommends? Oh, and telling your partner about any STDs you might have--that's a woman's job too. Because men, well, they're only having sex with one woman, always. And that's verily true, it is--we got this little tidbit from Elliot Spitzer, so you know it's legit. And women should be the ones with whom the responsibility to get treated lies. Men don't need the HPV vaccine, because they wouldn't ever get cancer. But, ahem, they can still transmit it. If you found the cure for HIV, would you exclude giving it to any population that was only a carrier and didn't themselves contract full blown AIDS? I think not. In order to best serve the women, it would be a valid argument to vaccine both sexes. For more, read here why men should be similarly vaccinated.

And this just in:
Here's another orientation, gender, and race skewed report by the CDC, that hopes to incite fear and reinforce bias. It talks about how gay men are reportedly more likely to contract syphilis. The study does say that men are six times more likely to contract this disease, but they quickly include that the primary transmitters are gay, and that the researchers "also called rises [in syphilis] among women and blacks troubling." The article also points out that the increase stems from "high-risk behaviors" (whatever that means) and "multiple partners." This language is even more insidious than that of the teenage girl article, because it suggests, very overtly, that gay males are in some way more apt to commit risky or irresponsible behaviors. Well, sorry, but high-risk behavior (like unprotected sex, and other, non-vaginal forms of sex) as well as having multiple partners, happens with ALL sexual people--regardless of orientation or sex. And the rather tactless implication of this article is that only gay men practice certain behaviors. The fact of the matters (sexual and otherwise) is that white, straight, rich men have a better ability, and the need and want to cover up their sexual activities. What's more is that often what is reported by certain groups varies--is a middle aged married man willing to admit to his sexual escapades, especially if they're Spitzer-style risky? What is reported, and what is happening in the collective sex life of all Americans is much more than meets the eye, and you can bet the CDC.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Vices, Vixens, and Vitriolics

More Scandal. Another press conference scene with an penitential politician and a doting, head-cocked, stoic wife. It doesn't matter what language or what area of the country, the careful self-flagellation and spousal hand-holding is the national symbol for "I'm fucked. (but my wife certainly wasn't)." That scene in general, and yesterday's Spitzer scene in particular, got us to the topic of vices.

Ah yes vices, those lovely little spigots through which all our pleasure and downfall spews. Obviously, Spitzer's vices were twofold: a steamroller mentality and the sexual prowess of your average, woman-hating john. Combine those with money and power and you've got an unstoppable vice-ridden force... that is until he was caught, and by the IRS no less --what could quite possibly be dubbed as the least sexy of federal agencies. Because of his (newly revealed) completely hypocritical record of being extremely harsh on corruption, it's only probably a matter of hours before Spitzer gets the proverbial boot via insta-resignation. And so Spitzer's vice leads to yet another: the vice-gubernatorial man: David Paterson, the lieutenant governor. Because of Spitzer's various indiscretions, we're staring into the face of the first black, and legally blind New York state governor. Let's all hope that the cliche statement is true, and justice is blind. He will be only the fourth black state governor in the US (other states with black governors: Louisiana, Virginia, Massachusetts). But all this aside, this "vice" governor will get the ultimate promotion due to Spitzer's own record of vice. So here's some more contemplative vice.

When people vote, it is under the expectation that who they vote for will be the one who ends up in power. How much consideration do people make when they are presented with a full, two-person ticket? And how much should that factor into their decision? How far the "what-if" road should you travel, and why?
Because let's face it: it's not just assassination that leads to those in power having to concede their position to the underlings --all types of scandal can get you thrown out of office now, and the methods in which government agencies, the media, and the public can check political vices seems to be growing unabated. (All the better to see you, my political darling, said the big bad wolf.) But once we're done devouring our juicy, scandal-ridden suppers, we're left with the carcass of a political machine which now rests on the shoulders of someone who is supposedly qualified, but never intended for the job. And often, the public trust in this individual was given as a pass to the lead candidate that they supported, who is now defunct. Sometimes, this doesn't matter, because the vice-whomever turns out to be good, and maybe better, than the original (the rule of theatrical sequels is not in effect in politics).

But there are some troubling scenarios that every voter should consider when they go to the polls.
Scenario: Say McCain wins. (now this is scary enough, but bear with me here). Say McCain names Huckabee, or someone like him, the vice pres. Now, McCain most likely wouldn't be impeached. But the guy did have cancer four years go, and he is pushing the limits of the average US male life expectancy. So we have to consider that he has a higher chance of dying while in office than any of the other younger, robuster candidates. Leveraged against his possibility of not fulfilling four years, his consideration of a vice candidate should play more into the voter's decision than say, an Obama vice president. And can you imagine what a horrific thing it would be to have a vice-Huckabee, or someone like him in the office of president? Women would be getting out their hangers as abortion is speedily outlawed, and the new prevailing middle school curriculum would be creationist sooner than you could say of pandas and penguins.

Speaking of vices, women, and injustice, let's talk about another important point as the Spitzer drama unfolds with punchy delicacy of a bad porno. One thing is documented: Spitzer is not your average john. The reason for this? You might say his governorship, his money, his status? You'd be right--but not entirely. The main difference between Spitzer and every other womanizing pervert is that Spitzer will actually be punished for soliciting a prostitute... though not really. His indictment is likely to be mainly on the crimes associated with money laundering, or moving around funds and claiming monies are being used for certain things, instead of for buying high class hookers. So maybe Spitzer is like your average john in that the crime of prostitution will be lesser, if at all than if he was the actual prostitute. It is widely documented that the "vixens", not the vice-ridden men, get the brunt of the legal action taken against them. So they are screwed both literally and figuratively, if you get the rather overt drift. Through the 80's up to today, numbers have shown that a much larger percentage of prostitutes are arrested verses "customers" and the average time in jail is much longer for women that are arrested compared to men. That's not even to mention the fact that well, when was the last time you heard of a woman charged with soliciting a prostitute on the street? So not only do we have a culture that promotes the idea of the downtrodden woman selling her body for money, we also have a system in place that perpetuates the denigrating practice by allowing men soft sentences for solicitation, while simultaneously punishing the prostitutes. No one's saying that prostitutes should get off free--they are breaking the law--but punishments should go to those who keep them in business, in order to put them out of business. If a service is illegal, both the provider and the purchaser should be liable. But vices have a tendency of devouring all sanity in their paths.

Monday, March 03, 2008

On the self-inclusive property

66% from a straw poll of random less-than-forty-year-old walkers on the streets of NYC. That's the percentage of younger people using some sort of electronic isolating device (e.x. mobile phone, ipod, blackberry, etc.). [The poll percentage was graciously bestowed by the author of nevermore of peace].

So what does this mean?, you might ask, as you haphazardly pop in your earbuds? Can we refer you to the oft used and abused quote: No man [though possibly a woman] is an island? (my brackets). This statement, though bandied about like an old jock strap in the high school locker room, still provides a worthy perspective: we cannot, artificially or otherwise, create a completely isolated existence -- and for our own good. First, the most obvious point of being oblivious is that we will inherently find ourselves acted upon by those around us, and the situations therein. In simpler terms: we can ignore the car speeding down the road towards us all we want as we text message LOL, but that car will hit us whether we acknowledge it or not. It's as if we've devolved into believing that if we cover our eyes, we are simply invisible. A five year old child knows better. Isolation has it's positives, but like most things (such as ice-cream, your uncle bob, and movies with Sean Connery) it's best in moderation, or small, effective doses. And the funny part of this survey is that it took place in NYC -- a city simultaneously filled with situations and aspects that seek to involve the streetwalker, while the streetwalker's resistance to pay it any attention is fiercely enforced by what seems a concerted effort by all to use electronic devices.

The parallel world of the ipod and the mobile phone, the iphone and the blackberry is not so cut-and-dry isolationist. At one end of this ever-shaded spectrum, is the idea that when you use these devices, you are utterly and completely alone -- even talking on your phone is a exercise in communication through wavelengths and frequencies which are inadequate and pale in the face of, well, face-to-face conversation. Yet the other side of the argument would tell you that using these devices keeps you more connected than ever; you can listen to podcasts on news items, chat with friends, browse the internet--you name it. However, all these maneuvers don't actually give you direct awareness; they only lead you towards other forms of distraction from the world around you: websites, internal conversations, etc. The problem is inherent in the displacement. You are never just in the moment, but in it while simultaneously somewhere else. Who knew that we have, in effect, already mastered the skill and technologies of time/space travel?

You could make the argument that people are by nature individuals, and because of that, we are really living, breathing Ipods that run our own self-determined playlists. No one can know the true machinations that take place every second of every person's life. And to some intents and purposes, this viewpoint is right. One can "zone out" fairly easily in the middle of traffic if they try (or don't try) hard enough. But the key word here is "natural." It is Natural for someone, who is preoccupied, to transplant themselves mentally into a thought so all-encompassing that they lose their sense of place and time. But when we use gizmos and gadgets all the time, we loose that sense of natural introspection. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the true cause of worry. If you're even listening.

Obviously, forty or fifty years ago (and in most cases even less time ago), people didn't have any of these devices at their fingertips and eardrums. They lived in a world that was determined completely by outside forces acting upon their senses. Some people wonder about different eras, and how we can never get back to that time, merely because of the change in habits and technology. But they are still imaginable. However, now it seems like that ability to imagine an earlier time is getting harder and harder, because our lives are being altered very quickly by how we observe, and what we chose to ignore. Imagination. It is powerful, and we are in a crisis of imagination, because of its severe lack and or reliance on anything but our own brain power. We are "trading up and outward": eluding boredom with little devices to entertain, while ignoring own own god- (or nature-) given talent for story, observance, and imagination.

For instance: A trip in the subway. Usually, you put on your ipod or play on your phone and ignore those around you, and sometimes for good reason- you don't want people to catch you staring at them. But it's a free country, why not try and look around? Right before you, are dozens of people who you don't know, and may never see again in your entire life. You only get one shot to see them. Ever. The middle-aged women staring down at her feet-- fluffy blond hair, round cheeks, and a vacant expression, the Indian man holding the metal bar at the end of the row of seats--slicked back hair, dark eyes, cool gaze--all different people, with plans and stories and fears you know nothing about, and probably never will. So why not make it up? It's human observation 101 and you're the pupil, professor, and teacher's aide. You get to set the curriculum and make the grades. A man refuses to give up his seat for the pregnant woman, students break out in Christmas carols, two women warble in a language so foreign you can't tell which Continent it originates from: all these contribute to a greater sense of the world, and a better ability to understand the people around you, and the people you will never meet.

This argument excludes the observation of physical structures and nature, but they should also be taken into consideration as worthy aspects that shouldn't be missed by phone call fog or an ipod haze. So do us a favor, and just once and a while, don't forget there's a world out there.

Sure ya'll wouldn't fancy a dec-a-dent brown-nay?

Going into a southern bookshop on the main downtown drag, you can find the same books as you might find in the innocuous tables up against the door at any local Barnes & Noble, with perhaps a slightly higher percentage of Paula Dean cookbooks. The clerk's conversation with customers, however, varies greatly. The majority of suggestions at this particular shop focus around right-wing economist treatises and books in the vein of Michael Zak, all delivered with that tell-tale twang that you may or may not hear, depending on the locality of the Floridian, though chances are you get more "down-home" locals the further north you travel in the state. Fine, good enough -- nothing wrong with a little political talk on a Saturday morning.

The coffee shop next door is perfect. The smell of the roasting beans hits your nose immediately upon entrance, and makes you forget about the aroma of the five biker men outside, who were precariously close to being confined to that other great two-wheeler -- the wheelchair. The coffee comes pipping hot, and you pay your gracious server the under two-dollar fee with a sense of triumph in only having to travel across five or six states to find such a beverage of low cost. You pay with the silver dollars spewed out of the metrocard machine when you last received change, thankful to get rid of such cumbersome, heavy coinage. The gracious server looks at the coins, then looks at you, then at the coins, then at her friend behind the counter. "Are these American?" she asks in utter befuddlement. Staring at her, you wonder how living a few states north could immediately put you in another country. "They're silver dollars" you say. Getting a reassuring nod from her friend, she plunks the coins in the register, and then proceeds to stare at the change in front of her, wondering what, if anything, she should give you back for such large and alien currency. Without wanting to abed such ignorance, you slowing tap your foot, waiting for your 39 cents. She realizes that money should be returned, and proceeds to take out a small calculator, and correctly commute your change. Who knew this foreign exchange necessitated calculations by hand?

At dinner, the waitresses press dec-a-dent brownays upon you like it was Jesus coming to save you, in chocolate-incarnate (and believe it, they love them some Jesus down there). Or the key-lime pie made with their signature citrus, which, many would argue--goes better in cocktails then with whipped cream. They deep-fry everything, and it must be wondered as to whether or not the style of southern hospitality aids in dulling the true flavor of their sentiment-- when you're beleaguered with dec-a-dent brown-nays, it's easier, in the digestion haze, to forget about the problems and not-so-innocent viewpoints. Right-winged, warped views is fine to some extent, we're all allowed opinions. And to characterize the south as some evil place disguised in creamy pastry-form would be a misconception. But like it or not, a trip to the south shows you just how much your naivete is overblown. Overhearing a conversation between what could only be construed as a bunch of "good ol' boys" on the corner, this is what was offered:

- "So, what do you think of that Obama? How would you like him as president?"
(the other man leans in)
-- "I'll tell you what -- he'll be assassinated, he will!"
(youthful chuckles)

So, despite what was said in this opinion, backtracking needs to be made. Although, it must be said that if hideous statements like these are being made in northern Florida, they're being whispered in spots across the country: north, south, east, and west. And this is a sorry, sorry state of affairs. We think of ourselves as so progressive, but the feeling of entrenched and overblown entitlement is getting real old, real fast. Our economy is bleeding, and our worldwide stance is waining, and we wonder why we have such problems. We sugar-coat and chocolate-cover everything that is wrong, to the extent that some, this sadly blogger included, forget that such hatred and insidious comments are alive and well across the country, and in your local town. Non-exposure is no excuse. If we don't change that awareness, and do something about the injustice of it, we are headed for a collapse, albeit a sugary one.

So no, we wouldn't fancy a dec-a-dent brown-nay, thank you.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

more insanity (the southern version)

Running along the beach this morning, the display was ocean on one side, H.O.U.'s (Houses of Unusual Size) on the other. They were large by any estimation, and in colors not found naturally in any habitat found in picture books or the discovery channel. The beautiful views were obstructed, however, by one, single 2x2 piece of thin cloth: A confederate flag, hanging atop one of the highest houses. Let's remind ourselves - this is Florida, USA, 2008. The beach experience has been corrupted more than any amount of stepping in cigarette butts could. How can a "progressive" country allow anyone to hang a flag like that for everyone to see? More reflections to come.