Thursday, April 28, 2005

Drowning in a sea of boring

Still working on the dissertation chapter. It has to be in on Monday, so maybe I'll have brilliant thoughts to share with you all after that. Until then, expect more boringness. If that.

Tomorrow I go to the hospital to have the NASA-designed balance test again. I will be strapped into a chair with little electrode thingies attached to my head, and they will put the chair a tiny dark room and rotate me while lights flash on the walls. It's very exciting. It's the only medical test I've ever had that resembles something you would do at an amusement park.

Sadly, that is the most interesting thing going on in my life right now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

God help me, I'm becoming a sci-fi geek

For all I know, this has been around for months, but I just learned about the trailer for Serenity

I am inappropriately excited. Pretty soon I'll be camping out at the wrong movie theater and brandishing a fake light saber.

Friday, April 22, 2005

I wrote 16 pages of dissertation today, and I am too tired to be coherent. Sorry. So here's what happened with Dr. Obnoxious. He agreed that I should go off the steroids, which is lovely. On the other hand, he claims, with no evidence, that I'm better than I was a month ago and that the steroids made me that way. The stupid blood tests aren't even back yet, and all he has to go on about the vertigo is my word. But apparently, my word doesn't count for anything, even when we're discussing the sensations that I'm feeling.

Basically, Dr. Obnoxious is incapable of admitting that he is not omniscient. Rather than admit that there's some trial and error involved, which is the truth, he lies and pretends that whatever he has done has worked. It's annoying and insulting and it suggests that I'll have to fight the steroid battle all over again unless I can manage not to have another flare until I finish grad school and (hopefully) get on a better health plan.

But in better news, I wrote 16 pages of my dissertation today. And with that, I'm going to go to bed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

So two medical developments tomorrow:I take my last dose of prednisone, and I have an appointment with Dr. Obnoxious, the ENT from Hell. Dr. Obnoxious really, reallly believes in prednisone. He thinks it's a miracle drug, which it often is, except that it doesn't seem to work for me. And he thinks, despite all evidence, that the prednisone made me better last time. (I got better as I was tapering off of it. But the Very Rare Condition is a relapsing and remitting kind of thing, so it's likely that the flare had just run its course. At least, that's what all the rheumatologists think, especially since it doesn't seem to have done a bit of good this time.) So anyway, it's pretty likely that he's going to want me to go back on steroids at a higher dose. And I'm going to have to stand my ground and say no. He can't make me take prednisone. But I am still struggling to get over my nice, obedient, good-girl impulses. I'm totally dreading the appointment.

I just heard someone on The Newshour describe John Bolton as "the ultimate kiss-up, kick-down man." I've got to remember that description. It sums up way too many people i've met in my time.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The good news is that I have written 1/6 of my dissertation chapter. And since my dissertation will have six chapters, that means that I've written 1/36 of my dissertation. Woo hoo!

The bad news is that I have not thought of anything but my dissertation today. And since I'm not about to bore you with the details of my dissertation, I have nothing to blog about. Sorry!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Tonight I am supposed to be writing the first chapter of my dissertation. (I don't mean that it will actually be chapter 1. But it is the first chapter that I have tried to write.) So far, I have done the following things. I have walked to the library and collected all my xeroxes and notes from my locker. I have walked to the grocery store and procured supplies (which is to say gummi bears and hard candy.) I have checked my email at least 50 times. I have opened up a document, formatted it, and saved it. I have eaten all the gummi bears and half the hard candies.

I have not, however, written a single word.

I think I need more gummi bears.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Building a Better Pill Bottle

You know how sometimes you hear about a solution to a problem and then you realize that you hadn't even recognized that the problem was a problem in the first place? I'm not talking about invented, fake problems that you come to believe in because of the marketing genius of people who are great at making you feel inadequate. I'm talking about things that genuinely weren't working very well, only you were so used to them not working very well that you didn't realize they could be better.

Take prescription pill bottles. Of course they're confusing, hard to read, and easy to mix up with one another. It didn't even occur to me that they could be anything but. But a design student named Deborah Adler has invented a much less confusing pill bottle, and Target, the source of all things cheap and well-designed, is actually going to make them. Aren't they pretty? Isn't the drug's name big and clear?

I don't get drugs at Target, and I don't think I'm going to start. For one thing, it's inconvenient, and I like my neighborhood pharmacy. But it's awfully tempting to make the trek, given the pretty, pretty pill bottle.

via Amy's Robot

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

So in the ongoing immune system vs. inner-ear smackdown, my immune system seems to have developed a new weapon. I've had lots of vertigo and lots of ringing in my ear, but the intense ear pain is new. And it's really distracting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Making strides towards gender equity when it comes to narrow, stupid beauty standards

I just got around to looking at this week's Entertainment Weekly, which features a cover story on the men of Lost. On the cover, you have most of the male cast, looking all rugged and manly and sexy. But three adult male cast members are conspicuously absent. They are the actors who play Hurley (too fat), Locke (too old) and Jin (too Korean. I honestly can't figure out any other explanation.) This disparity continues inside the magazine. Each actor gets a profile, but the three non-cover actors have smaller profiles and much smaller pictures than the rest of the cast. This despite the fact that the characters are as central to the plot as any of the guys who made it on the cover.

How fucked up is that?

Of course, the core female cast of the show is all young, thin, and conventionally sexy, so the female equivilents of Hurley, Locke or Jin would never get on island, much less on the cover of EW. (I'm taking for granted that a Korean woman is differently positioned in American pop culture than a Korean man.) So I guess we haven't reached complete parity when it comes to the entertainment industry's narrow-mindedness. But it still depresses the hell out of me that no one seems to realize that there are people out there who find fat, middle-aged, or Asian men not just fun to watch but also attractive.

Incidentally, in his little tiny profile (accompanied by his little tiny picture), Jorge Garcia, the actor who plays Hurley, says that he hopes his character will get to have a romantic plotline. How about it, folks? Maybe Hurley can hook up with Jin.

Monday, April 11, 2005

And the reverse- Pulitzer for most inept and offensive review...

should probably go to Charles Taylor's Newsday screed against Harriet McBryde Johnson's new book. Now, I haven't read the book, and for all I know, it's awful. But there's some serious presumption going on in this review. Where on earth does Taylor get off claiming that the author's understanding of her own disability is naive? "But even a polemicist needs logic to back up her passion, and Johnson simply is not a thinker."?! What the fuck? And how about this crazy paragraph:

The ugliness of Johnson's sensibility is common to ideologues of all stripes, the willingness to sacrifice people to dogma. Of the Lewis telethons, as grotesque as she claims they are, she says, "the money does some good, but the price is too high." Too high for what, her pride? What if you're one of the families with a disabled member who depends on MDA for financial aid? Should they refuse the money as a sign of solidarity? Have Johnson and the others protesting the telethons come up with alternative ways of funding?


First of all, objections to the telethon have nothing to do with "pride." The telethon depicts disabled people as objects of pity, as dependents, as charity cases, as permanent children. That's not just insulting: it's dangerous for people who have had to fight like hell for the right to live independently, to be educated, to hold jobs. I have a childhood friend who has mild cerebral palsy. When she started kindergarten, the school district said she couldn't attend a mainstream school and put her in a "special ed" class designed for kids with cognitive impairments. Her parents had to take the district to court to get her in a mainstream classroom aimed at kids of normal intelligence. Because she limped. If her parents hadn't had the money and wherewithall to sue the school district, or if she'd been more seriously or visibly disabled, she would never have had educational opportunities that Charles Taylor likely took for granted. She would have been sacrificed to the prejudices of a society that saw disabled people as not worth educating. The Jerry Lewis telethon reinforces the notion that disabled people need charity rather than opportunity. That's not trivial: disabled people, and the entire society, suffer because of that assumption.

It's likely that the hypothetical family dependent on telethon money actually exists, although Taylor doesn't provide any evidence that they do. And it's even possible that Johnson would expect the family to refuse the money as a gesture of solidarity, although Taylor certainly seems to be putting words in her mouth. But it's sort of stupid to claim that disability-rights advocates haven't come up with alternatives. DRAs spend their whole lives struggling to find ways to enable disabled people to live with dignity: it's kind of what they're all about. Johnson wants to change the society so it's set up to support all disabled people, including people with muscular dystrophy. Taylor, it seems, can only conceive of support for the disabled in terms of charity, so it seems cruel to take away the handouts on which some disabled people depend. But Johnson, I think, is arguing for a more robust theory of rights that would render charity unnecessary. Instead of demeaning handouts, purchased at the price of their dignity, disabled people should be entitled to the things they need to live full and meaningful lives. They shouldn't have to parade themselves on television or depict themselves as objects of pity to get that: it should be seen as their due, the same way social security or public education are seen as rights of citizenship. We would pay for that out of tax dollars, the way we pay for public schools and social security and other things that are necessary to have a just and decent society. It's really not all that complicated.

I understand some of Taylor's objections. I really do. It's reasonably likely that I'll go deaf sometime in the not-too-distant future, and I find the whole Deaf culture argument kind of not-useful in my particular case. I like hearing; I'm going to be profoundly bummed if I can't hear anymore; and I don't think I'll ever come to think of deafness as a different culture rather than a disability. I'll cope if I have to, but I don't want to have to, and I'm going to be peeved if someone suggests that being bummed is a failure on my part. It does sometimes seem like DRAs are a little condescending or judgmental towards those who haven't made peace with their disabilities, which is kind of shitty, since people are entitled to their messy emotions.

But you know, if it comes to that, Harriet McBryde Johnson is a lot more likely than Jerry Lewis or Charles Taylor are to help me fight for my rights to have a career and health insurance and access to public accomodation. And when push comes to shove, I much prefer the kind of condescension that suggests I should stop feeling sorry for myself and fight for my right to a normal life to the kind of condescension that tells me I'm an object of pity and treats me like a charity case. I don't need a movement to validate my feelings: I've got friends for that. It's heartening to me that there's a movement fighting to ensure that the society doesn't view my rights, my autonomy, my value as all contingent on my ability to hear. I'm willing to put up with a little annoyingness in the service of that goal. If that makes me an ideologue, I guess that's ok by me.

On Saturday, my friend M. insisted that I watch Troop Beverly Hills, a mostly-forgotten Shelly Long vehicle from the late '80s that is most notable for featuring future Rilo Kiley front-person Jenny Lewis. My friend and I share a thing for cheesy teeny-bopper culture, and she thinks Troop Beverly Hills is a masterpiece of '80s kitsch. It's a totally silly movie, and it doesn't deserve serious scrutiny, but it made me think about something. It's actually typical of a whole genre that denegrates female ambition.

Troop Beverly Hills is an underdog story about the rivalry between two girl scout troops. (They're called "Wilderness Girls," but we all know what they are.) One is made up of spoiled rich girls from Beverly Hills. Instead of doing actual Wildnerness Girl activities, they shop, get their nails done, shop some more, and then they have Shelly Long's tailor create their own badges to celebrate these "skills." Instead of selling cookies, they get their parents' rich friends to have a benefit, hosted by Robin Leach. When it rains on their camping trip, they decide that sleeping in a tent is no fun, so they check into a four-star hotel, where they "camp" by ordering room service and play poker with the sexy bellhop. The other troop works really hard and has mastered genuine wilderness survival skills. At the end of the movie, these skills are tested in an orienteering competition at the annual Wilderness Girl jamboree.

Needless to say, the Beverly Hills girls are the underdogs and the hard-working, ugly, non-rich girls are the evil villains . They're led by the real baddie of the movie, a former army nurse who is so butch that people around her constantly refer to her as "sir." Now, this could partly be read as a celebration of being a decent person: the non-Beverly Hills girls are mean, and they cheat. We're given ample reason not to like them. But it's also a movie about the triumph of innate specialness over ambition and hard work. The bad troop's effort is part of what makes them so nasty, unfeminine, and doomed to humiliation. The good, Beverly Hills girls triumph because they do what is supposed to come naturally to the pretty and privileged: they shop, plan parties, and order room service. When they do what comes naturally, their innate sparkle and charm wins people over, and it ensures that they win.

This innate sparkle thing is something of a trope in ditzy literature aimed at women and girls. Take Kavita Daswani's Desi-themed chick lit book The Village Bride of Beverly Hills. In it, Priya, a young Indian woman who has just entered into an arranged marriage with a guy who lives in Los Angeles, struggles to deal with culture shock, difficult in-laws, and the tension between her desire for independence and her commitment to being a good wife. In an attempt to deal with all of this angst, she takes a job as a receptionist at an entertainment magazine. There, she quickly rises to become a reporter. Priya, it is made clear, knows nothing about journalism or about the American entertainment scene, and she doesn't even particularly want career success. But she's innately special. She's a good listener. Her guilelessness and simplicity make celebrities open up to her. She snatches the job away from a friend who is ambitious, competent, qualified, but just doesn't have that innate sparkle.

Now, I realize there's something really appealing about the fantasy of the triumph of innate specialness. It's a large part, I think, of the pleasure of the first Harry Potter book. I'm sure that a lot of picked-on, nerdy little kids enjoyed imaging that they had special powers and were destined to save the world. But the Harry Potter books also focus on the painstaking process by which Harry is educated to take on his destiny. His specialness may be innate, but it still has to be honed. What's unique about the way specialness is conveyed to women and girls, I think, is that it's contrasted with, not complimented by ambition and hard work. If you're a woman, your specialness is compromised if you try to succeed. You're much better off walking around in a cloud of fairy dust, confident that others will recognize your gifts and reward you.

And that's bullshit. I know someone who has succeeded as a reporter by projecting a Priya-like guilelessness and innocence, but it's a carefully-honed act. She knows exactly what she's doing, and she's worked hard to hone her reporting and writing craft. In real life, the girls who have worked hard to learn actual wilderness skills will win the Wilderness Girls competition. In real life, if the unambitious Beverly Hills girls get ahead in the world, it will be because of their parents' money and connections, not because of their innate specialness. (Tori Spelling, who has a small part in the movie, is exhibit A.) But most of us do not fall into that category, and it seems a shame that, even as the general culture is becoming more accomodating of female ambition, there's a whole genre of pop culture that still teaches girls that success will come their way if they don't put any effort into achieving it.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

So here's what my day has looked like:

At 7:00 AM, my alarm went off and I got out of bed, took a shower, and had breakfast.
At 7:45 I left the house, stopped to get some coffee, and made my way to the train station, where I got on a 8:15 train for Neighboring City.
At 10:15 I arrived in Neighboring City and got a cab to Neighboring University.
I arrived at Neighboring University at about 10:30.
From 10:30 until about 11:00, I tried to break a $5 bill so I could buy a copy card, since the copy card machine will only take $1 bills. I eventually bought coffee, but threw it away before I could drink most of it, because I couldn't afford waste any more time.
At 11:00, I settled down in front of a microfilm machine. I read and xeroxed microfilm until 2:00, at which point I got some lunch. At approximately 2:30 I returned to my microfilm machine and continued reading and xeroxing until about 5:30.
At 6:00 I got another cab back to the train station. The restaurant at the train station was closed, so I bought some trail mix and a bag of Skittles for dinner. I got on the 6:40 train from Neighboring City.
At approximately 9:00 I arrived at home.

I'm really tired. And I've been putting in far too many 13-hour-days lately. I need to hurry up and write the dissertation already.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

In which I utter the scariest words in the English language

I think the guy from the Cato Institute might have a point

The link, which is from Pandagon is about whether people should be able to buy drugs that the FDA has deemed are dangerous. They would have to sign a form promising not to sue the drug manufacturer before they could buy the drugs. I realize there are big problems with this, but I can see the benefits.

The thing is, people have a very mistaken notion that drug safety is a black and white thing. Either a drug is safe or it is not. And in fact, that's not right at all. All drugs, including very common and uncontroversial ones, carry risks. All approved drugs carry benefits. Someone has to decide whether the benefits outweigh the costs. And I can sort of see the argument for thinking that the patient, rather than the government, should get to decide when it's worth taking the risks.

This comes up most often, I think, with drugs that improve people's quality of life. It comes up with pain meds like Vioxx, for instance, or with hormone replacement therapy, which alleviates the symptoms of menopause. Because quality of life isn't quantifiable, it's hard for researchers to acknowledge the benefits. It seems irrational to risk serious illness or death, things that can be measured, so that you can live without discomfort, something that is difficult to measure or convey. Agencies like the FDA tend, I think, to treat quality-of-life concerns like they're trivial, and they tend to assume that people who give in to those considerations are stupid or weak. They may be right, but it seems to me that people ought to be able to make their own choices on these matters.

The problem, I think, has to do with ensuring that people have the information necessary to make informed choices. If I had terrible arthritis, I might be willing to take a drug that would take away my pain but had a 1% chance of killing me. I would definitely not take a drug that would cure my arthritis but had a 40% chance of killing me. If you force people to sign away their rights to sue, you also take away the drug companies' incentive to provide accurate information about the risks associated with their drugs. We'd need to come up with a better system to ensure that people got accurate information.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

So I've been trying to think about what rubbed me the wrong way about this post of Hugo Schwyzer's about an exercise he did with the church youth group he runs. In it, he had all the kids, girls and boys, go around a circle and discuss what they did and didn't like about their bodies. The value of this, he says, is that it taught the kids that everyone, including the conventionally attractive, has body issues. And then maybe they'll realize that everyone has body image issues and that their self-perception, rather than their bodies, is flawed.

Now, I think that Hugo is pretty well clued in to the aspect of our culture that tells girls that they should have "perfect" bodies. But he's not so attuned, I think, to the bit of beauty culture that tells girls and women that since perfection is unattainable, even the most beautiful woman must be engaged in a constant, doomed struggle against her own inevitable flaws. It's very Christian, in a sense: just as the good Christian will, try as he might, never overcome his own sinful nature, the beautiful woman can never, despite her constant vigilance, overcome creeping ugliness. And therefore, one aspect of appropriate femininity is the constant, doomed quest for that elusive perfection. This is enforced through fear (you're going to wrinkle! You're going to get fat!), and it's also enforced through fear of vanity. It's rude to admit you like you're body, and it threatens to make you look foolish. Chances are that you are not all that, so if you admit you're satisfied with how you look, you will appear to be conceited and have delusions of acceptability. Better to preemptively admit that you're aware of your imperfections than to look like you think you're better looking than you really are.

So I worry that Hugo's exercise is going to backfire. He thinks that the kids will recognize that their good-looking peers are insecure too and will recognize that those insecurities aren't grounded in reality. But I think that, for girls at least, it might just hammer home the notion that all women, no matter how beautiful, must criticize and discipline their bodies. And if the beautiful girls recognize they're not good enough and must fix themselves, what does that say about what the mousy girls should be doing?

That's what's going on with the girls who said they wanted to look like Mary Kate Olsen, I think. I mean, come on. Nobody really wants to look like Mary Kate Olsen: she's an overgrown munchichi. But she's our current celebrity anorexic, and they want to emulate her supposed self-control and self-denial. (It's sort of ironic in light of the persistent rumors that Mary Kate's thinness is of the more chemically-induced variety. But anyway.) They chose her as their role model not because of how she looks but because of what she does to look that way. Given that, I can't see why they'd see the light when they realized that their attractive peers felt their bodies also needed to be fixed and disciplined. It's more likely that they'll decide they should emulate the pretty kids.

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