Archive for category Health and Society

Milking disinformation for all it’s worth

The other day, I got an unsolicited e-mail that read, in part:

Our site’s production team recently released a short video uncovering the local and global impact that milk has on our lives.
After spending some time on your posts, I noticed you talked about milk and dairy products so I thought I’d email you.
Let me know if you’re interested in checking out the video.

The site in question is InsuranceQuotes.org, which didn’t strike me as the sort of advocacy outfit inclined to agitate against milk consumption (and the above text in the e-mail alone informed me of this group’s stance on milk without me having to even load the video). Even more strangely, the only post I believe I’ve ever made to this blog about milk appeared here last July and was plainly something no anti-milk type would want to use as ammunition for her cause.

So, I reckoned I had been fed a promising opportunity to rip something apart by an unsuspecting pseudo-spammer who clearly doesn’t take the time to read the output of bloggers she assumes from keywords alone might be her allies. So I watched the video, just over a minute long and embedded below. Read the rest of this entry »

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An archetypal example of spectacularly shitty “research” and even worse reporting

I recently hinted at the fact that surveys are not scientific studies, and should not be treated as sources of useful data when it comes to certain areas of research. I now have a “study” that exemplifies this perfectly.

It’s one thing to ask people yes-or-no questions that are hard to fuck up without conscious effort, e.g., “Who do you plan to vote for for president next week?” It’s a far sketchier matter to rely on self-reporting and self-recall when it comes to something not nearly so black-and-white, such as food consumption.

Therefore, “research” findings that the author of this article suggests are surprising are not startling in the least, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bad science blogging: egg-on-your-face edition

“Eggs are Nearly as Bad for Your Arteries as Cigarettes!”

I guess the exclamation point in the title of this post on a militant (hate to recycle that word from the “militant atheists” idiots, but it sometimes fits) vegan blog is supposed to add veracity, or intrigue, or something.  But a survey of several of my friends proves that this is bullshit, and that exclamation points intended to lend support to an idea instead imply that the idea is flimsy at best, laughable at worst. And a survey is as good as a formal study, at least in some people’s view.

Yes, egg yolks contain a lot of cholesterol, and cholesterol has indeed been associated with atherosclerosis and attendant health problems and risks. Smoking’s effects on the cardiovascular system are well established. Good. But the finer points of the “One Green Planet” post are off the mark and signal bias, laziness or both.

Here’s the breakdown. Read the rest of this entry »

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Same story, different headlines: a great example

Since sectarian religion by definition plays fast and loose with the truth (I’ve always wondered where the “fast” part of that saying comes from, but for now I’ll just roll with the cliche’), it should be no surprise that Christian news outlets are even more deep into the spin game than most media outlets, virtually none of which are free of at least some degree of obvious bias.

In 2009, a lawsuit was filed that aimed to block President Obama’s expansion of the availability of embryos for embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) via federal funding. (Ironically, the suit was brought not by pro-life opponents but by a pair of scientists concerned that the change in policy from the Bush Administration, which allowed ESCR but not its taxpayer funding, would ultimate backfire and hurt progress in ESCR.) The suit was tossed by a lower court, which determined that there was no basis for the suit since it was predicated on the erroneous idea that embryos in the federally funded projects were “harmed” in the process, which, if true, would violate a 1996 piece of legislation. (The quote marks are mine; feel free to argue with their inclusion if you want.) This decision was appealed, and on Friday, and appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision. Read the rest of this entry »

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Plyo Boxes

In an attempt to regain a certain “spring to my step” which seems to have dissipated with my battling of injuries over the last few years, I decided to get back to some bounding and jumping drills. As part of this little experiment I thought it might be nice to get some plyometric boxes. These can be rather expensive though, and being somewhat of a cheap bastard when it comes to things like this, I decided to build some. I am by no means an expert with tools but I have managed to build a few things over the years and I figured with the assistance of a friend who is an expert with tools involving wood, this shouldn’t take too long nor cost too much.

I decided to build three boxes of 4″, 8″, and 16″ height and 2′x2′ square. By stacking them I could get 4″ increments from 4″ to 28″. To keep them from separating I figured I could latch them together. 3/4″ plywood is plenty strong, especially when glued and screwed together, so that would be the body material. It turns out this takes a little more than one 4′x8′ sheet of plywood but I had an old treadmill deck sitting in the basement which would make up the shortfall (3/4″ MDF). So it was off to the lumber yard.  The sheet was about $40 plus another $8 for a box of wood screws. From there we went to my buddy’s shop and spent a few hours cutting, drilling, and assembling the units.

Fortunately, I had some left over exterior grade poly, so the boxes got two coats. Now I needed something to prevent slippage. I ordered something called “gymnastic rubber” from an online place but it turned out to be very flimsy. Even at 1/4″ thickness it could easily be torn with just your fingers. I returned it and wound up with a couple of 2′x6′ yoga mats ($9 each, on sale due to discontinued colors-oh the horror). The “gymnastic rubber” weighed a mere 1.3 ounces per square foot. The yoga mats are over 1/4 pound per square foot and should hold up nicely. These were cut into 2′x2′ squares and glued onto the top and bottom surfaces of each box. I had some acoustical sealant laying around which is like caulk that never fully dries, it stays rubbery, so I used that.

Then the latches. It seems you can’t buy decent latches at the local home improvement store. The ones I finally grabbed are made by GateHouse and came with perhaps the cheapest screws I have ever seen. The phillips head slot will strip out with only modest torque.  I replaced them with some beefier units I had (3/4″ #8 as I recall).

OK, so the whole thing was less than $100 (not counting supplies on hand) and in total took the better part of a day. The set weighs over 80 pounds. Here’s a pic:

We’ll see if they work.

 

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A Healthy, Fundamental Right

If one were to make a list of healthy hobbies, that list would probably include distance running, bicycling, rowing, skiing, hiking, swimming, and a variety of other self-locomotive activities. If a second list were to be created that detailed fundamental rights which need to be protected, it’s a safe bet that it would include items such as the rights of self-determination, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and so forth. What’s the intersection of these two lists? Just ask my Congressman.

New York’s 24th district is represented by Richard Hanna, a conservative Republican millionaire who was swept in with the Tea Party surge of 2010. Now that the next election is less than a year away, we have begun receiving mailers from the Congressman informing us of the important work that he has been supporting. One arrived just the other day. The winning line for me was the following:

“Hunting, fishing, shooting, snowmobiling, and trapping are not only healthy hobbies – they’re fundamental rights that need to be protected.”

Apparently, sitting behind a loud two-cycle engine and breathing its exhaust is both healthy and a fundamental right. So is standing around and shooting at a target. And certainly everyone admits that fishermen and hunters are known for their buff physiques and strong hearts.

For the most part I don’t really care whether or not someone finds fishing or snowmobiling or the like to be a fun pastime. We each have our preferences.  I think it’s a bit of a stretch, though, to describe some of these things as healthy or fundamental rights.

Unless, of course, you’re trying to reach out to your base. In that case it’s better apparently to make them feel better about themselves and mention minor, tangential items that you support than to address the large concerns and necessary legislation that will, in fact, actually help people in a major way.

 

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The mysterious, accusatory They

Someone on a fat acceptance blog has written another post about the excoriating unfairness of the Body-Mass Index. (For those who have been trapped under a rock for fifteen or so years, the BMI — calculated by dividing mass in kilograms by the square of height in meters — is a metric clinicians use to define people as overweight [BMI greater than 25.0], obese [over 30.0] and “morbidly obese” [over 40.0].) This post, however, doesn’t attack the legitimacy of the BMI itself by contesting the established correlation between higher BMI and higher risk of certain medical conditions. Instead it targets those who use it without saying exactly who these people are, although from the context it seems to be a loose cabal of epidemiologists, doctors, health insurers, climate scientists, social workers and others. Her argument seems to be that using 30 as a a cut-off for obese ends up classifying a lot of healthy people as unhealthily fat: Read the rest of this entry »

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Couples therapy may be useful in eating disorders

I use Medline Plus a great deal for my LIVESTRONG Foundation writing and editing work, and I’m glad I added it to my RSS reader because there’s a lot of concise, up-to-date information provided by the NIH.

Here is a short video touting the value of couples therapy in helping women to recover from anorexia, a disease for which, the physician narrator admits, few adult treatment options exist. I don’t know why I’m so struck by a desultory 64-second-long presentation, but it’s probably because most people I know who are in varying stages of recovery from anorexia learn somewhere that they need to deal with the issue themselves; “help” from friends and family had traditionally meant understanding and quiet support rather than actively planning meals or jointly facing the problem of food choices. The problem with the latter is that there’s always a psychological tug-of-war between anorexics being hyperacutely aware of others’ scrutinizing their dietary habits and choices and the fact that their fierce independence is largely what allowed them to become very sick in the first place. as with any other difficult chronic disease of the body and mind, having a partner in your life you can trust is vital; again, common sense, but somehow anorexia seems to have been quietly given an exemption to this guideline over the years.

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Artificial facts about artificial sweeteners

A friend of mine subscribes to a sports-nutrition newsletter written by someone named Michael Colgan, whom I’d never heard of until four weeks ago, when this friend asked me for my thoughts about a pair of Colgan’s articles, one about iron deficiency and the other about optimizing fluid replenishment on the go. These are not novel topics, and much of what Colgan has to say about them is de rigueur, although based on my own experiences in these areas I quibbled with a few of his claims.

But after questioning my friend further, I discovered that Colgan, who apparently has a PhD in something (I say “apparently” because his Web site doesn’t include an “About Me” section and the links given on Wikipedia pointing to this information are broken), offers phone consultations for an eyebrow-raising $750 an hour. That’s $12.50 a minute, which I believe (but do not know) is less than it costs to speak to a breathless and toothless 55-year-old woman with hirsutism and a beer belly pretending to be a naked clone of Jennifer Aniston. And after learning still more about “The Colgan Institute” (and keeping in mind that a number of established “institutes” involve no more than space in someone’s mother’s garage), I think that all else being equal I might spend my money on the bloated 1-900 interlocutor. Read the rest of this entry »

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Silver lining?

I don’t know if this counts as a PSA, a cheap shot, or an expression of gratitude that I am not a frequent patron of fast-food restaurants. Regardless, it’s kind of funny, more so than most things, even.

Someone I know runs an HVAC business, which means he does repairs and maintenance on various types of heating and air-conditioning equipment that I have no idea how to fix. He has quite a few corporate clients, among them at least one Long John Silver’s. I don’t like seafood, if that is indeed what it served there, and have never been to one of these establishments for that reason alone. I am in no hurry to change this after hearing his account of his labors today.

Evidently he was starting to work on a small refrigerator at this restaurant and was reaching behind the unit to access whatever wasn’t working right when a small battalion of cockroaches emerged at high speed from what to this point had served as a well-concealed base of operations. The manager, who had been watching, without a word hunkered down and began squashing as many of these roaches as he could using only his thumbs. Why he did this instead of stomping on them is unclear, but he managed to exterminate a good many of them before they could take refuge behind another piece of equipment. Then the manager left. My friend continued working, and minutes later the manager returned with a vacuum cleaner and began sucking the corpses out of view.

I have never been associated with a public health entity of any sort and do not pretend to understand the complexities of their sundry regulations, but I am confident all the same that restaurants are expected to keep their premises relatively clear of roaches and other six-legged invaders, and pre-remptively at that, not by deploying thumbs and an industrial wet-vac only after their presence, in the form of colonies with memberships numbering in the double digits, is discovered.

I would tell you exactly where this restaurant is, but I figure that if I don’t you’ll think twice about eating at a Long John Silver’s whether you are reading this in Dead Pecker Ridge, Nebraska or Rangoon.

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Perhaps you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you here today

The existence of this post, which I’ve been looking forward to with much the same combination of feelings I had before the first running race of my life (dread mixed with let’s-do-it adventurousness), is a by-product of competing influences. On one hand, it addresses an issue that is intensely personal in more ways than one, and is part of an effort to nudge a memoir in desperate need of book covers toward publication. On the other, it’s been years since my last serious race, I can quite efficiently operate from a platform of damning self-contempt, and have every reason to avoid spending too much time rambling into the welcoming but time-cannibalizing void of the Internet. But in the end, it was no contest. I’m doing this for a reason I can convincingly describe as both irreducibly complex and hopelessly simple. I think I have to. And hopefully I won’t ruin it with the kind of pithy overstatement that infects most of the posts on my own own blog, where that kind of flavor serves my self-appointed role as scornful gadabout.

In 1999, shortly before becoming a contributing editor and then a senior writer for Running Times, I supplied the magazine with an article titled “The Thin Men.” It dealt with a subject that was, and remains, a weakly explored one –eating disorders among male distance runners. It garnered a modest amount of appreciative comments from affected men and (more often) concerned wives, partners and family members. It also included a lie of omission, one I suppose can be overlooked given my position as a feature writer rather than a columnist: I myself had been carrying around an on-again, off-again eating disorder for about a decade.

Where do these things start? I don’t want to turn this into a deep general or personal treatise, but everyone’s story is different, and mine started after I got to college and started conjecturing ways to turn myself from a decent high-school runner into a solid university-level one. I wasn’t particularly weight-conscious as a high-schooler, but at some point around my nineteenth birthday settled on the idea that I had to weigh under 140 pounds. It didn’t matter if that meant 139.5, which was as good (sort of) as 136 or 137; it just meant that 140.5 was fail writ large and undeniable. And so one day, after a typical post-practice trip to the all-you-can-eat dining all at UVM, I decided I had put away too much ice cream on top of whatever shitburgers had been on hand, and I threw up the whole mess on purpose. I don’t want to get into the mechanics and you don’t want me to either, but for a rookie I found it frightfully easy, and I’m sure kindred spirits have undergone the same ugly, instantaneous transformation. It was fucking gross, but even before I left the stall, some demented but perfectly lucid part of my mind had decided the matter: I now had a sure-fire way to keep myself at the “right” weight.

The short version is that I didn’t do what I told myself I would do, which would be to limit this kind of thing to “special occasions,” whatever those might have been. I didn’t. I told myself I’d quit this nonsense and just stay at <140 the healthful way. I didn’t. I ran 80-mile weeks for the first time. I improved throughout my freshman year, but in spite of, clearly not because of, what I was doing. And by the end of spring I had gone from an 8:50ish 3,000 meters indoors to barely being able to run under 17 minutes for 5K. I was anemic, with a serum ferritin of approximately tap water’s.

Several things happened in the next bunch of years. One of them was fostering a serious binge-drinking habit. This was not uncommon, and at the time I had my share of fun, but despite keeping a very high GPA in a challenging major I knew deep down I was playing with fire, and that something would give. Later I’d learn that excessive drinking, general impulsiveness, and being raised in an emotionally bland alcoholic household (and please do not take this as an indictment of either my parents, who asked for none of the pain I’ve thrown their way over the years) were all hallmarks of bulimics.

And so it went, and by my junior year I was too tired and quietly miserable to keep running for the team, so I stopped. I told myself it was because I needed to spend more time with academics, but that was bullshit; I was just too toxic, mentally as well as physically. When I headed down Interstate 89 for my next round of higher education, I knew for sure that I had to get my act together because everything I got away with as an undergrad was not going to fly here, including the purging. And I somehow kept myself stable and sober for a good spell, and carried on well in my consuming endeavors, and resumed running seriously. I was training for marathons now, and was enjoying it more than ever. After a tepid first marathon in 2:39 just before I turned 25, I decided, like a lot of shlubs my age running under 15:30 for 5K. to try to get to the Olympic Marathon Trials standard–then 2:22:00–before 2004.

Well, I gave it a fine effort. On the surface, a highly focused and even single-minded one. I posted my training logs on my new Web site for a coterie of dedicated buddies and random observers to pore over, comment on, whatever. This told the story of someone who was hammering out 100-mile weeks, with some blowout tempo runs and all that jazz, and who steadily edged his way down to 2:30 at age 27 to 2:26 at 29 to 2:24 at 31 and now just needed one more push and a little luck. What I did not post on my site, not surprisingly, were the recurrent relapses into binge eating and purging. By this time I wasn’t even weighing myself; it was not, at root, about running anymore, really. It was an emotional crutch, no different than a drug in most important respects. In fact, when things got really rough I’d alternate between using food to avoid alcohol and then booze to stay away from bulimia. How’s that for a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound? But I didn’t care, or so I told myself, and after a while believing it. In the meantime I missed the Trials by a few minutes but ran a new set of PRs at five distinct distances at age 34, seven years ago now. Make no mistake–I had some lengthy periods in which I stayed “clean” across the board, or else none of this would have been possible. But there was surely a cost of indeterminate value, and it seems evident that half the reason I ran my fastest times at a comparatively advanced age (considering I had been running more or less continuously for two decades) was delaying my best running to a time that lay my genuine physical peak because of the dysfunction.

That year, although it seems hard to believe now, was the last year I trained and raced seriously. I had a brief comeback from my first real injury in a long time (a sports hernia) toward the end of 2005, and then when I moved back north a lot of things went quickly to ruins. I was running a lot, but was unfocused. I’d basically abandoned a number of important relationships because I was so volatile, not so much on the outside but in my own head. I started really giving up in a lot of ways for the first time and wishing people would just go away, yet I couldn’t stand the quiet even as I sought it out. And I got to a point where I was just so damned ashamed that I was ready to do some very bad things, lonely and private things, because I didn’t think I could get back to living as the sane and wholesome human being I remembered being at…what, 17? I mean, how low does a dude have to sink when he sees his late teens as the pinnacle of his psychosocial existence, right? But oh, self-pity does burn brightly in the flame of far-flung addiction. And the guilt at how I was treating the good people I had managed not to shove away was incapacitating.

I’ll only say that I came to a decision in the not-too-distant past that is probably the most significant one I’ve made in my adult life, a part of embracing the fact that I’m not unique or even much of a blip on the ass of this planet, which paradoxically relieves me of the burden of treating myself like shit and trying to live with a measure of stability and dignity. And I can list one thing I have started doing in the past couple of years that I never dared to in the past, and that’s telling people the truth. The first person I told about my eating disorder was a crazy but brilliant aunt, a psychiatric nurse, who then proceeded to matter-of-factly tell my mom and dad about it. (I had told her this in a phone conversation and have still never met her in person, and frankly I don’t care to.) I was devastated. I’d been protecting the hell out of that secret for years and had been certain I would go to my grave without telling a soul, and when I finally opened up, my confidant let the cat out of the bag. But, upset as I was, she did me a small favor, because people knowing what I was going through took some of the power out of it. Since then I’ve disclosed this side of myself to various others, at first limiting these people to fellow ED pilgrims and then moving on to a greater range of friends. Now, I evidently don’t mind. Like fungi, sicknesses of the psyche thrive on darkness, and like vampires they don’t do well in the light of day. I have found that telling on myself takes a lot of power out of my compulsions in this area, and although I’ll never know until it’s over if I am truly “healed,” I have the sense that life is more purposeful than fighting heroically to punish myself. I have a feeling–no, know for certain–that it’ll be a few years before a light inside becomes bright enough for me to fully understand the extent to which people have supported me through all of this. And many of them are surely reading this, and know who they are, so please understand that I am grateful, even though I’m a douche in certain ways and will continue to let this charming aspect of my personality predominate from time to time, and you don’t have to forgive for that, but you have to try to laugh. At me, not with me. I do.

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Arizona governor seeks to fine smokers and overweight people

You’ve perhaps noticed that many of my post titles are provocative in some way: bad puns, double entendres, inflammatory hyberbole. When the title is straightforward, it’s usually because any lunacy in the topic speaks for itself and doesn’t need “gotcha!” embellishment.

Jan Brewer, who once claimed that her father died fighting the Nazis in Germany even though he was never in the military and died of lung cancer 10 years after World War II ended, has already learned worldwide notoriety for signing into law SB 1070. A fan of vacuous anti-abortion legislation, she is now looking to fine Medicaid recipients who smoke or are overweight $50.

Ms. Brewer’s surcharge would apply only to only certain childless adults: Those who are obese or chronically ill, and those who smoke. They would need to work with a primary-care physician to develop a plan to help them lose weight and otherwise improve their health. Patients who don’t meet specified goals would be required to pay the $50, under terms of the proposal.

In Arizona, 25.5% of residents were obese as of 2009, according to figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ranking it about in the middle among states. About 46% of Arizona’s Medicaid enrollees smoke daily, according to a 2006 survey by the state’s Medicaid agency.

Fine, so Arizona is flat-ass broke (it did away with its version of the Children’s Health Insurance Program last year) and smoking and overeating are bad news. But why target poor people? Because their “income” is straight from the government? And why are Medicaid recipients with children exempt? You’d think a government intent on rewarding healthful choices would be concerned about parents who set poor examples for their kids. The rest of us should be able to smoke and eat our merry way straight into downtown Hell.

How about this, Jan: Target all smokers and all fat people, or none at all. Tax the shit out of cigarettes if they’re so damned nasty. Enforce a statewide surcharge on anyone who makes use of any government funds, including schools. Got a fat kid or two in the public education system? That’ll be $100 per child, thanks much. Passing through a toll both on a state or federal highway and looking a little too bloated? An extra dollar for you or you can turn that lardwagon around. And if you are a government employee in any way and have a bad fattitude or are known to light up, great! But 5% of your salary goes back into the kitty until you shape the fuck up. It would also help matters if Brewer is fined $10,000 every time she is caught lying to the public.

Also, isn’t the cry of “no more nanny state!” supposed to emanate from the Republican side? Or are these kinds of impositions okay when their targets are easily envisaged as drug-addict layabout minorities?

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Shorter NH GOP to the mentally ill: If you can’t pay, you won’t get it

I may unload on a lot of people and institutions, but this stuff gets me boiling like little else can. In part:

“We’re changing the mandate that says the agency must care for all to one that says the agency can triage,” said division Chairman Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican who proposed the language.

The new language states that if a person does not have the ability to pay for mental health services, the responsible agency “may conduct a clinical assessment and may prioritize services based on clinical needs. Emergency services may be provided as appropriate.” The amendment would also add language stating that admission to the state’s mental health services system and access to treatment “shall be contingent upon the availability of appropriations.”

I imagine these shitweasels understand that their ham-handed soft-pedaling of the language in this bill and elsewhere is not fooling anyone, but at least they have the courage to try.

People are angry at the comments from “sailmaker,” a chronic and not at all creative troll. I don’t bother. Most us us know by now just what characterizes the kind of people who haunt newspaper comment forums and the Web in general, making it their raison d’etre to complain about liberal socialist evils. They are most notable for pointing fingers at others and forgetting, or trying to, that they have three pointing back at them. I have almost do doubt that sailmaker is a major player in his own (possibly apocryphal) account, just like Gribbit is. He’s probably either been on disability for a mental condition himself or wasn’t approved for it, or failing that is upset that his physical problems didn’t qualify him for one of the government handouts he claims to hate so much. And I am in no way making a reactionary or spiteful comment–just contextualizing it for those who might think sailmaker is simply evil.

Applying for SSDI is a lot more involved and much harder than people realize. One of my friends is an attorney who specializes in Social Security law and is an advocate for people with mental illness. She grew up in a series of unstable sitations and was abused in all sorts of ways, but is sanguine enough now to realize that just because she was able to overcome lots of resultant depression and so on and establish professional standing, it doesn’t work that way for everyone.

It’s easy to bash along party lines, and I try to avoid it despite appearances, but in some cases a broad brush paints clearly, and this is one of them. Every single time the GOP makes any kind of move concerning health care, whether it’s mental health or women’s health or whatever, the singular goal is to leave needy people in the lurch or intrude into their bedrooms. There’s nothing else, ever. And they weave inelegant and shameless fictions when they do it.

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Gribbit continues one-sided flame war with Justin Bieber

Sure, Gribbit has never chosen his battles, his words, his positions or his sources wisely. But he’s now sunk to making occasional posts in his one-wingnut echo chamber accusing a peripubescent Canadian teenage pop star with strange hair of talking out of his ass when it comes to the U.S. healthcare system.

Granted, when searching for informed opinions about complex socio-political issues, the cognoscenti generally don’t rush to give the words of people like Justin Bieber, or any 16-year-old (okay, 17 now) a lot of weight. But for better or for worse, people like to know what celebrities think about issues they perhaps do not, in fact, think about much, and so when Bieber was asked whether he wants to someday become a U.S. citizen, he opined:

“You guys are evil. Canada’s the best country in the world. We go to the doctor and we don’t need to worry about paying him, but here, your whole life, you’re broke because of medical bills. My bodyguard’s baby was premature, and now he has to pay for it. In Canada, if your baby’s premature, he stays in the hospital as long as he needs to, and then you go home.”

This doesn’t quite mesh with Gribbit’s report that Bieber “decided that he has some sort of input into the affairs of the United States,” as it’s generally considered fair to express a simple opinion about something without an accompanying desire to uproot it, but then Gribbit has always presented himself as something of a fascist. But Gribbit’s sole concern here isn’t Bieber, but a baby from Canada with a terminal illness who has gotten a lot of attention thanks to his unfortunately soon-to-be-over life becoming another tug-of-war between right-to-life types and doctors, or in this case the respective healthcare systems of the U.S. and Canada.

Compare this CNN story about Joseph Malaachli and his family to Gribbit’s speculation-laced gripe focusing on Canada’s “communist” ways and ignoring the sad but simple fact that this baby is going to die and that keeping him alive via mechanical means is merely prolonging the inevitable, a la Terri Schiavo. (Remember that name.)

Now, Gribbit seems to think his stance has been vindicated, because–fancy this–an anti-euthanasia, anti-abortion religious organization from the U.S. agreed to pay for all of this child’s medical expenses so that he could be transferred to a St. Louis hospital and die at home in the care of his parents after a tracheostomy that would prolong his life, if not its quality. Gribbit is obviously confused or in denial, as he seems to think that the baby is receiving treatment in the potentially curative sense.

In some ways this is a tough call. I can understand the parents’ anguish and wants here. But to frame this in terms of competing healthcare models rather than focus on the medical and ethical realities is asinine, and a column in the St. Louis Dispatch by a former G.W. Bush speechwriter and “traditional marriage” drone embodies this perfectly. It’s not about healthcare to people like this. It’s about a dogmatic belief rooted in broader religious convictions and nothing more.

Indeed, Canada’s system is different from the Unites States’ in that the courts can and do function essentially as medical decision-makers in cases like this one. But really, it wasn’t the government’s refusal to pay for a necessary procedure that’s at issue here. It’s the baby’s doctors having made a difficult but eminently justifiable decision based on the baby’s health and chances of truly living on. And if people like this guy get to be front in center in situations like this one, it demonstrates nothing other than the fact that lives can be prolonged in utter futility as long as someone with questionable motives is willing to pay for it.

One last wonderful tidbit from Gribbit, the king of all irony-meter-slayers:

Justin should stick to what he knows.

On second thought, Justin oughta just shut the hell up because he doesn’t know anything.

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Nebraska woman given the privilege of delivering corpse-to-be

Actually, I’m lying; Danielle Deaver legally no choice but to deliver a baby that was certain to die.

Danielle Deaver cradled her daughter, knowing the newborn’s gasps would slowly subside, and the baby would die.

Through tear-blurred eyes, she looked her daughter over for physical defects.

Deaver, 34, of Grand Island, Neb., wanted to see something, anything to validate the news doctors delivered eight days before: Her baby had virtually no chance of survival. And if she lived, she would be severely disabled.

What Deaver saw was perfection: A tiny but beautiful child. Ten toes. Ten fingers. Long eyelashes.

Her baby tried desperately to inhale.

With her husband, Robb, at her side, Deaver sobbed, gently kissing her daughter’s forehead and hoping her baby wasn’t in pain. That fear – that the baby would suffer before its predestined death – compelled the couple to seek an abortion. But a new Nebraska law that limits abortion after the 20th week of gestation prevented her from getting one.

Try to overlook the ham-handed attempt on the reporter’s part to make this more troubling than it is and just consider the facts. Nebraska is the only state in the U.S. that currently defines 20 weeks as the threshold for “late term.” Under state law, this woman could only have gotten an abortion if her life or physical health was in danger. The fact that the baby stood no chance of survival in the judgment of everyone present is immaterial, because these laws are not predicated on medical realities or–like the “pro-life” movement itself–rooted in any kind of sense or human decency whatsoever. They are nothing more than efforts by benighted, undereducated and brainwashed people to shove current laws back in the direction of making abortion illegal across the board.

Aborting a still-living fetus at 23 weeks is not pretty, but it is legal everywhere in the U.S. besides Nebraska. As devastating as the whole thing is, an abortion in cases like this is functionally no different from taking someone like Terri Schiavo off life support, with the life support system in this case being a person rather than machines, and a move the same benighted whiz kids of course oppose roundly and with an equal lack of intellectual engagement.

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100% of Chimp Refuge bloggers surveyed believe that Americans should never be polled

So the Kaiser Family Foundation asked 1,202 randomly selected American adults some questions about the health insurance reform law — you know, that monstrosity the newly GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives calls “Obamacare” and keeps promising, loudly, to do all in its power to see repealed — and the results were not what we’ve come to expect, which is that Americans have some serious deficits in their knowledge of the things they at least pretend to care about. No, this was evidence that an awful lot of people are ignorant beyond most workaday slurs I can produce on short notice.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that healthcare is a significant concern to virtually every conscious and sentient citizen of this country, at least those not on loan from the planet Krypton or secretly crafted from complex circuitry and state-of-the-art alloys and hence impervious to biological ails. People need not even know legislative particulars such as the fact that health reform stems from the 201 passage of two separate bills, let alone the names of those bills (call them ACA and Reconciliation, if that helps) in order to have at least a tenuous grasp of the essentials. But people should at least possess a few strands of knowledge before casting an opinion — positive or negative — on an issue, even if it’s just yapping into a telephone to slake the eager beaver from the KFF at the other end. The result of last months poll demonstrate forcefully that people are perfectly willingness to judge the worth of its government’s machinations without knowing what these are or even if they are, at least in the healthcare realm, and that the ignorance-willingness disconnect is far more pronounced on the Republican side.

Here are the essentials. 43% of those polled have a favorable view of the reform law, while 48% hold an unfavorable view. The divide between Democrats and Republicans was sharp indeed: 66% of Dems and only 11% of Repubs report a favorable opinion, while 26% of Dems and a whopping 84% of Repubs hold an unfavorable one. Nevertheless, 50% of respondents, including 75% of Dems and 17% of Repubs, either want the law kept as is or expanded, while 39% — 18% of Dems and 74% of Repubs want it repealed.

If those numbers appear to clash, it gets better. When asked about the current status of the law, 22% believed that it had been repealed, 26% didn’t know or refused to answer, and 52% knew that it is still the law of the land. Nearly one in three Republicans think that the law has been repealed, meaning that at least some Repubs who want it repealed think that repealing a law twice is necessary or useful. Fewer than half knew that it was still law, compared to almost two-thirds of Dems — the latter not precisely encouraging, either.

There are a couple ways to interpret these data. The most optimistic interpretation is that the questions were confusing in some way and failed to elicit an accurate picture of the average American’s healthcare-law knowledge, rendering the poll itself of little value. A more realistic perspective is that Americans don’t have to know their asses from their elbows in order to listen to politicians bellow about the prevalence of elbows sticking out from between people’s buttocks and begin nodding grimly in agreement. But these are not mutually exclusive views, and the ineluctable truth is that either Washington has failed grandly to explain what the new laws encompass or–and this seems undeniable–those talking heads with a vested interest in obfuscating the facts, always a much easier task, have succeeded.

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Interactive childhood obesity map

Poor Mississippi manages to bring up the very rear in so many indices of functioning, and with its kids this heavy, it won’t have an easy time running to catch up.

Click on the image below to see the interactive version. Interestingly, while Colorado has long been the “leanest” state overall, its children are not among the nation’s slimmest, while the kids of generally portly Michigan are among the trimmest in the country.
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It would be interesting to make a drive from, say, Cheyenne to Little Rock, just to appreciate the heft gradient.

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South Florida’s out-of-control “Oxy Express”; pill mills run willy-nilly

I don’t know that I have ever seen a more startling statistic than this:

Doctors in Florida prescribe 10 times more oxycodone pills than every other state in the country combined.

That’s right; a state with 6.1 percent of the population accounts for over 90 percent of its oxycodone prescriptions. The rest of the country’s pharmacies would need to jack out their output by a factor of about 150 in order to keep the other 49 states in step with Florida in this dubious regard. Even by the standards of the most comprehensively ludicrous state in the nation –Florida is to the rest of America what the Insane Clown Posse is to pop music — that is dumbfounding.

Rather than opine further, I leave you with NPR’s story and Carl Hiaasen’s column about the issue, which centers on a truculent governor named Rick Scott who, prior to being elected, amassed his personal fortune as the head of a healthcare company that last year proved responsible for the most egregious Medicare fraud ever perpetrated. Hiaasen warned voters of the menace in their midst prior to the gubernatorial election last fall, and true to form, they elected Scott anyway. After Scott won, Hiaasen again predicted serious problems, and the oxycodone mayhem is only the first.

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Why is Planned Parenthood indispensable?

Because regardless of your views on elective abortion, Planned Parenthood is honest about its range of services and disseminates credible, unbiased medical information. That may seem to be setting the bar pretty low, but consider the alternative, which most of the current crop of U.S. Representatives would undoubtedly favor if it came down to a choice.

[F]or women unwilling to become young mothers—nervous women who are lured into [limited service pregnancy centers] for their advertised free pregnancy tests—visiting these centers can be traumatic. On their websites, brochures, and business signs, many advertise themselves as medical clinics, not Christian pregnancy centers. “Medical Clinic,” read many of their business signs, followed by “Free Pregnancy and STI Testing.”

But none of these centers are medical clinics—they’re not medically licensed with the state. They’re largely staffed by volunteers, not nurses or doctors, and their services are far from comprehensive. Some of the centers offer sexually transmitted infection testing or ultrasounds (no diagnostic analysis, just moody pictures of your insides) but no other medical care. None of them provide information about or access to birth control or condoms (just abstinence and Jesus). When you visit their websites or call to make an appointment, it’s rarely made clear that these are Christian organizations. Based on anecdotal evidence, only occasionally do they voluntarily disclose before appointments that they’re opposed to abortion and won’t refer women to providers who offer those services…

The video informs me that if I have an abortion, my chances of dying within the year are four times greater than if I chose to keep the pregnancy. If I make it through that year alive, according to the video, my risk of getting breast cancer is likely to “increase by 50 percent.” If, down the road, I do decide to have children, I might not be able to bond with them. I could also suffer for years from post-abortion syndrome (a condition dismissed by the American Psychological Association) that may lead me to contemplate suicide.

Then a woman on the video recounts her experience of getting an abortion after being forcibly raped. She says it was easier to forgive her rapist than to forgive herself for getting an abortion because “I did that to myself.” The not-so-subtle subtext of the video: Have the baby. Keep it, put it up for adoption, give it to a pack of wolves to raise—anything is better than having an abortion

Only half of the six pregnancy centers Megan and I visit during our weeklong pregnancy test spree disclose over the phone that they don’t perform or refer for abortions. None mention that they’re Christian-run clinics. “We do not discriminate, judge, or lecture,” says a woman with Whatcom County Pregnancy Clinic, a crisis pregnancy center in Bellingham, when I pointedly ask if the organization is Christian and if they refer for abortions. She dodges the referral question, saying only, “Come in and take a free test. It’ll only take a minute and then we can discuss your options.”

Christ is waiting in the waiting rooms—Bibles, crosses, and Reader’s Digests everywhere. But by the time women are in those waiting rooms, most have already committed to an appointment, which is the goal.

At every center, Megan and I are faithfully given false information about abortions that is presented as fact. Their statistics come from debunked medical studies, the conservative Medical Institute, and Focus on the Family.

What kind of conditioning can so thoroughly trash anyone’s moral compass that she thinks that preying on fearful young women with lies and scaremongering is okay, but abortion is sinful? There’s only one kind I know of, but it’s unfortunately as popular and timeless as misbegotten fads get.

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Running, anorexia, living and writing: audio interview with Lize Brittin

Lize and Suzy Hamilton at the 1984 Kinney Midwest Regional

Lize Brittin was a two-time Kinney (now Foot Locker) finalist at Fairview High School in Boulder in the mid-1980s, winning the Midwest Regional her senior year and winding up seventh at the national champs in San Diego two weeks later. Translated for the benefit of non-runners, that means that she was one of the best cross-country runners in the United States, and it makes her one of the few great runners associated with Boulder who’s actually from there; Melody Fairchild, who holds the U.S. record for the high-school two-mile and won Foot Locker Nationals twice, and Kelsey Lakowske, who was fifth at the Nationals in 2010, are the only other Boulder natives to make it to the extremely exclusive race in Balboa Park, which for many years featured just 32 athletes and now allows 40. She also set a women’s course record for the Pikes Peak Ascent and was ninth in the Bolder Boulder 10K, both world-class events — and both at age 16. But even before landing at Brigham Young University and then at the University of Colorado with a full scholarship, anorexia had begun to take its toll, and she wound up nearly dying from it in her twenties.

Lize is 44 now and thankfully as far back from the depths of her illness as anyone can be. She’s had some of her freelance writing published, but more importantly has also finished a memoir about her experiences, Training on Empty, that she’s looking to publish, and she has started a blog of that name. She’s visited area schools and been on local radio over the years in reaching out to younger runners about the topic, was recently on a Runners Round Table podcast, and has compiled (in my biased opinion) a memoir that goes well above and beyond the usual “I have issues” stuff that people have become almost hardened to. Importantly, she’s healthy today while acknowledging the toll her disease took on herself and her friends and family and balancing the running she’s able to do now with the loss of her best years to a life-threatening illness.

I recently chatted with Lize about these matters, exploring the questions below and others. Listen to the audio here (50 minutes, 48 MB download).
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As a former competitive runner myself, a person who seeks therapeutic gain or release from the act of writing, and a voracious reader (and hence a critic), I have to ask — what in your view distinguishes your story, and in particular your memoir about your experiences, from others of its kind?

You raced at a very high level, did so without becoming a household name (as you would have been had the Internet existed in the 1980s), and have kept a low profile in the running world for a long time. You are an unassuming person, the diametric opposite of an ego-driven person or a name-dropper, but I imagine that there’s a part of you that shies away from reflecting a lot on your successes because what could have become a national- or perhaps world-class career in the sport disappeared before you could see it to fruition. Is there therefore a bittersweet flavor to the whole of your competitive memories?

In many ways you’re straight from a textbook: You grew up the youngest child in a household which, while characterized by heavy-duty alcohol abuse, was still very much a high-achievement environment; you were chubby as a youngster; and in general you were never comfortable with the idea that you were a valuable person who does things right. You articulate this in the text, but even if you didn’t, this mindset emanates from your words and from your present-day persona as well. On top of that you had a coach who would weigh you and tell you, surreal as it sounds, that you were a single pound overweight on the morning of a championship race. Since you’ve come to know a good many anorexics over the years thanks to treatment and being open about your travails in your recovery years, does it seem that there has to be a “perfect storm” of factors in order for most susceptible girls — or people — to actually develop anorexia?

Anorexia is different from other disorders that could be described as addictive in that there is, in athletes at least, often a “grace period” in which afflicted people actually perform better in spite of manifesting the disease behaviors before they start slipping. You’ve mentioned that Diane Israel and perhaps others had begun counseling you well before you bottomed out. When you were experiencing success in spite of clearly having gone down the road toward “full-blown” anorexia, did you ever have the idea that you might be costing yourself in the long term or was the success itself, combined with the power of the disease, simply too seductive to allow for any such thinking to make real inroads?

Can you describe reaching a point at which you understood that this was no longer about running, or feeling thin or fit or in control, or any of the other mental shells in which anorexics shield themselves, and was really about your own survival?

One way in which you can unquestionably serve as a valuable resource to untold numbers of runners is that you’ve continued doing it at a modest (for you) level and come to terms with how running both shapes and you and how you need to command its role in your life and not the reverse, and you make no bones about the fact that there are days on which you feel fat and that it’s very uncomfortable for you. A lot of anorexics seem to fade from the activity altogether for either physical reasons or because the idea of balance is not even in the equation, but you’re someone who’s occupied every conceivable position on the whole spectrum. What would you tell a young woman who clearly is nowhere near recovery but has accepted the problem and fears that she will never be able to run again?

When did you start writing Training on Empty? Did you see it as a book-length project from the very beginning?

Where are you in terms of publishing the book at this point?

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