Saturday, May 19, 2007

Banana slugs

I went on the EV hiking trip to Sam McDonald today, which is basically in La Honda. It was sunny at Stanford, but incredibly misty in La Honda (the hills are often covered with fog). Strange weather: it was misting, but almost raining under the trees, which seemed to attract and collect precipitation. I finally found the haven of the banana slugs: I must have seen at least fifty. And salamanders (or what are they Mer, orange bellied newts?). And millipedes. And some people with horses. Not very crowded, which was nice.

Back here... I've been cleaning house in preparation for Andrew arriving tonight, and grading some papers. Guess I'll get back to that!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


The weekend before last I felt like being domestic. I mopped. Made a large batch of tortilla soup. Baked a rhubarb pie. Baked cornbread. Did laundry. Spruced up my closet.

It was also pretty beautiful out -- I managed to sit outside for a few hours Sunday afternoon. Turned a bit pink.

Here's the rhubarb pie:

And this weekend I did no work. Friday I had student conferences. Then I did some reading, some relaxing in the evening. Saturday morning I headed into the city with Veronica. Had a great talk on the way, and we managed to find our way to Union Square to meet up with Jess. We spent nearly 3 hours in Forever 21 -- all three bright and glittering floors of it. I had nearly forgotten how lovely it is to shop with friends who browse and try on at the same pace. Then we refueled at Starbucks, and walked V. back to her car (sketchy area). Instead of heading back home to re-read Middlemarch, I ended up staying for dinner (Indian food!) with Jess, her bf, and his friend. Talked politics & food & stats & Hood River news. Some after dinner shopping, and then we headed back toward Palo Alto. It was 11:30 when I got back to my room, and I was feeling kind of tired, but Jess convinced me that indeed, we could get a second wind. Went to a party, where I was repeatedly hit on by a 20 year old. Who quickly left me alone after Jess's friend, N. (name witheld to protect the innocent) played along with Jess's "but she has a jealous boyfriend -- right -- over -- there!" and handed me a beer. Hilarious. El salvador, indeed!

Then I thought I'd go home, but instead, we ended up watching bits of Nightmare on Elm St. while listening to 80's music, and playing drinking games.

Woke up after noon on Sunday... and then I had a Desperate Housewives studio event to plan. After two shopping trips... reading in the sun... seeing people for the show... I finally sat down for some more Middlemarch. Somehow I did have time to skim it, re-read the chapters we were concentrating on, and read a significant portion of Leavis's Eliot chapter before Monday's class. Had a productive & fun reading group (in which we tried to come up with a theory of marriage plots in the U.S. & Britain during the 19th century).

Today was busy. Lunch with a job candidate (amazing), preparing for PWR, class (got through our example, though I think I could have done more; then the thesis wash, fueled by chocolate covered espresso beans), job talk, self-guided Bible class, Law & Order, baking a rhubarb crumble.

Here's the latest baking experience:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

On "Convenience"

I've been sitting on this post for the last couple of weeks, ruminating. So without further ado, some thoughts on "convenience."

With the recent ban on the D & X abortion procedure that is typically used to save a woman's health and/or uterus from a doomed pregnancy, I've seen the word "convenience" thrown around quite a bit. You know, in the context of statistics showing that around 3-4% of abortions are done to save a woman's health and/or life, while higher percentages go to reasons such as: too young to have a family, no economic resources, no family support, would mean dropping out and losing chance to get an education, etc, etc. And these are, apparently, reasons that get grouped under the term of "convenience." In the famous words from The Princess Bride, I don't think that word means what you think it means. Convenience is walking to the market a block down the street instead of driving ten miles off to a shopping center. Or being able to buy both of your beloved Ben and Jerry's flavors in a single carton (it's called mixing brownie batter with cookie dough). Or that Grey's Anatomy is repeated on Fridays, just in case you missed it. It's not, however, a good word to describe a medical procedure (especially one as difficult to obtain as an abortion in this country) that prevents a more serious medical procedure (ie, sustained pregnancy and birth). We don't say, oh, I'm trying to get my body back from this flu virus "for convenience." Or, "it's so 'convenient' that I can drive a hundred miles to a clinic and walk through anti-choice protestors screaming that I'm a slut so that I can keep my minimum wage job and hopefully afford to buy my already very much alive kids food and clothes." Or, it's so "convenient" that I can wait to have children (despite my contraception failing) until I have a job and a life-partner. Or, it's so "convenient" that I can terminate this pregnancy before my abusive boyfriend finds out I was pregnant. I think the word "convenience" seriously undermines the moral decisions women make about their bodies and families.

I propose a new term.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


It's used in plastics and fertilizers. And it's the cause of the recent pet food recall. The NYT calls its use an "open secret" in China, dating back to the early '90s. Manufacturers -- with little to no sense of ethical responsibility -- add melamine to animal feed (rice, soy, wheat, corn) in order to artificially raise its protein content, thereby getting more money. This is what happens when you have a combination of human greed and little to no oversight or regulation. So melamine is in pet food, and we know it has been fed to livestock in the U.S. (pigs, chickens, God only knows what else). It's already in the human food chain at this point (people have eaten contaminated pork), and it has likely been so for many years. Right now I'm really glad I don't eat meat.

Only I'm not so sure these grain mixes from China haven't made their way into other products as well. This further confirms what I already believed: we should be eating local, organic when possible, and "whole" foods. And I don't mean "whole" as in, food that comes from an upscale market -- I mean whole as in, real food. Like vegetables and potatoes.

From the Huffington Post (which has a great, succinct write-up):
"The practice is widespread in China," the Times reports, and has been going on "for years." And it is not just wheat, corn, rice and soybean proteins that should be suspect, but the animals who feed on it, including all imported Chinese pork, poultry, farm-raised fish, and their various by-products. Despite FDA and USDA efforts to allay concerns about consuming melamine-tainted meat, the health effects are unstudied, and the permissible level is zero. If China could impose a three-year (and counting) ban on the import of U.S. beef after a single incident of Mad Cow disease, then surely the U.S. would be justified in imposing a ban on Chinese vegetable protein and livestock products due to such a prevalent, industrywide contamination.

I agree: we should be banning these products *now.* The FDA has sat on their asses over this long enough. The day they knew, we should have known, and China should have known that until they self-regulate and can guarantee we aren't getting scrap melamine added to our food supply, we won't be importing *any* food products (for animal or human consumption) from the country.

I'm wondering now if Prissy -- who passed last October -- was an early victim of this practice.

I don't trust the FDA farther than I can throw 'em.

Shifted Burden of Proof

Finally, a well-designed study debunking the beloved anti-choice mythology that has attempted to link abortion with breast cancer. The previous studies that anti-choicers used weren't very good or very recent, but for some reason their fear-mongering was allowed to stand. And then we had to wait for science to prove, you know, that abortion doesn't cause breast cancer. It's what logicians like to call a shifted burden of proof. Thank God we've now shifted it back to its rightful place.

From the NYT (April 24th):

There is no association between abortion and an increased risk for breast cancer, scientists reported yesterday in a large study...

The possibility of such a link has been suggested by some retrospective studies — that is, studies that looked for a history of abortion in women who had already been given a diagnosis of breast cancer.

But such studies are subject to error caused by inaccurate reporting. Because of personal sensitivities and the stigma associated with the operation, healthy women may be reluctant to reveal that they have had an abortion, while those with breast cancer, seeking a cause for their illness, are more likely to report one.

This study, published in The Archives of Internal Medicine, tracked women prospectively to see if those who reported having abortions were more likely to develop breast cancer in the future. They were not.

“There are still some states that require women to be informed about the risk of breast cancer if they get an abortion,” said Karin Michels, the lead author and an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard. “I think that may not be justified based on the current evidence.”

Change the "may" to "is" and I think we've got better policy. Cancer is scary. If we're going to be scared, let's at least be scared of the right things. If anti-choicers care about women's risk of breast cancer, they should slap those warning labels on red meat at the supermarket, not on abortions/miscarriages.

The scientists found no difference in breast cancer incidence between the women who had had spontaneous or induced abortions and those who had not. Breast cancer incidence did not differ among women who had had an induced or spontaneous abortion before or after their first birth, or who had had no abortion at all.

At the same time, the authors write, it is well established that a full-term pregnancy before age 35 does reduce the long-term risk for breast cancer. So it might be said that a pregnant woman who aborts increases her risk for breast cancer compared with what it would be if she carried the pregnancy to full term.

The article goes on to get Joel Brind's opinion on this study. At first I was like, huh, so this professor still seems really invested in finding a link between abortion and breast cancer. I wonder if there's something wrong with this study, despite the fact that other scientists go on to debunk much of Brind's criticism? And then I Googled the guy. Apparently he's an anti-choice, born again "Christian," who's mentioned on the infamous site "abortionbreastcancer" dot com. Oh yeah, no vested interests there. I'm sure he's commenting strictly as an unbiased scientist, right? Take note, NYT: this is not journalistic integrity in the name of "neutrality": it's blatant political agendas tampering with science. Don't give them a platform.

And for the rest of us who actually *do* care about women and the risk of breast cancer: wouldn't it be amazing if we could muster up this level of outrage over big business polluting the environment with carcinogenic chemicals? That actually *do* cause breast cancer?