Monday, June 20, 2005

I'm currently working on the kind of knitting project that drives real knitters batty. I went to the craft store the other day, and they were having a sale on something called "Fun Fur", which the website describes as a "novelty eyelash yarn." So I bought myself some Fun Fur in hot pink, some extremely fine yarn in sparkly silver, and some huge-ass plastic knitting needles, and I am holding the sparkly stuff and the furry stuff together to knit myself a scarf. This represents pretty much everything that is wrong with today's young, pseudo-hip knitters: it's easy, it's silly, it's not particularly practical, and it's a fun knitting project mostly because it takes no skill or thought. And yet I am loving it. My scarf, which is knitting up super fast, looks a bit like it's made from a snuffalufagus pelt. I will have to inform passers by that no muppets were harmed in the making of my fabulous, shiny, furry scarf. I am sort of tempted to make sparkly "Fun Fur" scarves for everyone on my Channukah list, including my dad.

I think there's something wrong with me.

In other news, I decided that my exercise program was unbalanced because I'm not really doing anything to work my abs or my back and because I'm unflexible, so today I went to a pilates class. And now I can't move. It was seriously the most painful thing I have done in my life. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to stick with it, because anything that makes me this sore has to be good for me. Also, since my vertigo is a bit better, I have started swimming again. So far, I have not drowned.

And that, folks, is what's going on in my life. I apologize for not having anything more interesting to tell you about.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I'm back from Toronto. I realize that I didn't mention that I was going to go to Toronto, but I did, and now I'm back. Toronto is a lovely city with truly excellent shopping, exceptional public transit, fab restaurants, and a lot of interesting, quirky little museums to visit. Toronto is also, however, home to a whole lot of panhandlers and other vaguely unsavory types hanging out on the street. I found this surprising, mostly because I assume that the reason that there are so many panhandlers in American cities is that our entire culture is a big mess. Canada seems like much less of a mess, and yet there are still drunken people staggering around at all times of the day. Of course, I was staying down the street from a substance abuse clinic, so I may have got a mistaken impression about this.

Anyway, if you're ever in Toronto, I recommend the textile museum. The shoe museum was not quite the thing of beauty that I expected it to be, but it is difficult to be anything but lauditory towards a museum devoted to shoes. Also, the gift shop at the shoe museum is pretty awesome.

Must go to bed now. Will try to be a better blogger tomorrow.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

And pink's not the new black, either...

Chiming in late to comment on this article from Newsweek about why Mexican-Americans are the new Irish. The author suggests that the Irish were outsiders who built political coalitions with other ethnics, and that allowed them to become insiders. The problem is that while that may be a sound strategy for Mexican-Americans, that's not really what the Irish did. The author really needs to read Steven Erie's masterful study of Irish-American machine politics Rainbow's End. Erie makes clear that Irish-American politicians generally did not build pan-ethnic coalitions. Irish-American political success was not good for members of other ethnic groups. What's more, it wasn't all that good for Irish-Americans.

Irish-American political machines like Tammany Hall were built on a system of patronage. There was an explicit bargain between the machine and the voter: the voter supported all of the machine's candidates, and the machine rewarded him (or later her) with tangible, individual rewards such as a public-sector job. The problem, according to Erie, was that machines did not have unlimited resources with which to reward voters: there were limits to how much they could raise taxes and how much they could borrow. In order to buy the maximum number of votes, they concentrated on creating blue-collar, rather than white-collar jobs. And in order to keep down the number of voters who were not beholden to them, they handed out those jobs to other Irish people and, as much as possible, discouraged members of other ethnic groups from voting.

It's obvious why this was bad for non-Irish urban dwellers. They were shut out of many public-sector jobs, which were reserved for the machine's constituency, and they were discouraged from participating in politics and from having their voices heard. What's more surprising, according to Erie, is how the machines hurt the Irish. Although individual Irish politicians and their cronies got rich off of patronage, most Irish-Americans ended up in blue-collar jobs, many of which were supplied by machines. Erie suggests that Irish-Americans might have moved into the middle-class more quickly if they hadn't relied so much on patronage jobs. And he also suggests that machines, which tended to be conservative, destroyed any possibility for a radical Irish political movement, something that seemed like a real possibility in the late 19th century. So all in all, Irish-American political success was not a really great thing.

So here's the thing. I don't think the author really cares that much about Irish-American history, unlike me. And I seriously doubt that he'd suggest that Mexican-Americans use patronage, corruption, and voter suppression to gain political power. He's using the Irish as a jumping-off point to suggest a policy for the group he really does care about. So does it really matter that his historical analogy is problematic? Should I care that the Irish didn't actually behave the way he thinks they did?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I was pleased to see this basically upbeat article on autoimmune diseases in the women's health supplement of the New York Times. There's lots of good news there, especially for people like me who have rare autoimmune diseases. According to the article, there's a trend towards treating autoimmune diseases as a category, rather than looking at each condition separately. Eventually, there may be a speciality in "autoimmunity," like there's now a specialty in oncology to cover all kinds of cancer. And there are several promising treatments that are being tested or that will soon be tested. The article suggests that, after a long period of neglect, these diseases are finally getting significant research attention.

One of the things I liked the most about the article is that they used pictures of black women, and a story about a Latina woman, to illustrate their points. Most articles about autoimmune diseases acknowledge that they are more common in women of color than in white women, but the overwhelming majority still seem to focus on white women. Considering how difficult these diseases often are to diagnose, and what an important role patients often play in making sure that their doctors reach an accurate diagnosis, that seems like a problem. Not to mention that it's just another annoying instance of journalists assuming that white people are the default.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A few months ago, my parents got some sort of free magazine dealie for donating money to something, and as a result, I have a subscription to both Time and Newsweek. I know we're supposed to hate Newsweek for being anti-American, or defend them for being sort-of-right, but my hangups about Newsweek are much simpler. Both Time and Newsweek are really, really stupid. It's all celebrities, Jesus, and personal health stories. The most surprising thing about the whole Koran controversy is that Newsweek was reporting something that might actually qualify as news.

So anyway, recently both Time and Newsweek have discussed the whole question of whether fat people can be healthy or are miserable and doomed. The results are predictably brainless.

So here's a letter to the editor of Time from Dr. Amir Mehran, who is identified as being from the UCLA department of surgery, but who does not say that he specializes in weight-loss surgery.

In "Is It O.K. To Be Pudgy?" [May 9], you reported that a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that people who are overweight but not obese are at no greater risk of dying prematurely than those of normal weight. You also reported the views of the food industry-sponsored group Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), which says there is no obesity probelm and it is all hype. The American public does not need the CDC, the CCF or anybody else to tell them what to think. Just spend a few weekends observing the crowds at amusement parks, the local zoo, or other popular spots. The obesity problem is glaring. If you don't believe your own eyes, ask foreigners visiting our country what they notice most about us.


Ok, let me get this straight. This guy makes his living providing surgery to correct a problem. Recent research has called into question whether the problem is really medically significant. And he's asking us to ignore science and instead trust our "eyes," which is to say our own socially-conditioned revulsion at the sight of fat people? Isn't that a little... anti-science. And isn't there a bit of a conflict of interest there?

Ah, but that's not all. This week's Newsweek is a special issue about fitness. (No worries that people in Afghanistan will riot about that, I guess.) There's a lovely article called "Can you be Fat and Healthy?" Here's how it starts:

By most measures, Kelly Bliss, 50, surely seems to have let herself go. The Landsdowne, Pa., resident stands 5'2'' in. in her stockings but tips the scales at nearly 200 lbs. Run those numbers through the body mass index (BMI)-- the statistical measure that factors height and weight to diagnose obesity-- and Bliss scores higher than 35. Anything above 25 is overweight, anythign above 30 is obese. In the nation's ongoing war with obesity-related health problems, Bliss is one more casualty, right?


Well, there's a positive note on which to start the story. The thing is, it's not correct to say that by most measures, she's "let herself go." (What's up with that formulation, by the way?) There's really only one measure that says she has a problem: the BMI. As the article goes on to explain, by every other measure, she's super healthy. And going by Dr. Mehran's very scientific "observing the crowds at amusement parks" test, the photo of Bliss reveals that she looks great.

Now, I know that one effective way to start an article is to set up a proposition and then knock it down. But honestly, this seems to reinforce the very proposition that the article seeks to argue against.

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