Friday, September 30, 2011

Get over yourselves

Forgive me if this is even more disjointed than usual- today I have a good excuse.  I'm feverish and exhausted.

There's an interesting story about this, but for now I'll keep it brief: my family was exposed to pertussis, which you might know as whooping cough.  The best part of the story is that we were exposed because another family does not believe in vaccinations. 

I do not object to people choosing what they will do for their own families or with their own bodies, but I don't think their personal beliefs should necessitate two of my children to take a course of antibiotics and my husband and I to suffer from sore throats, fever and fatigue.  I don't think it should have meant that I had to drag my two young sons to two doctor's appointments and a drug store today- that's a big part of the exhaustion.  Not to mention that it affected the way my family and I could observe Rosh Hashanah, that I haven't been able to see a good friend because of their compromised immune system, that my boys don't get to go to a playground for at least a few days or that I don't get to go to a conference on Sunday that I've been looking forward to.  Do whatever you want within the law, but then give people fair warning so they can make an informed decision.  I could have and should have been warned about this, and I wasn't.  It is the arrogance as much as the infection that is making me seethe.

Someone, somewhere, will read this and shrug.  It's my fault that my immunity is so weak; it's not the carrier's fault.  Of course they're right.  Because being a vegan isn't enough.  Practicing the deep breathing of yoga and Pilates and working my intrinsic muscles regularly isn't enough.  Walking an average 600 minutes per week isn't enough.  I must have a compromised immune system.  It must be that my mother didn't nurse me until I was five.  It's true- she didn't.  Having a sister arrive 17 months later would have made that difficult.  Well, there you go; if my parents had just listened to that [sensationalist idiot] Paul Ehrlich, this would never have happened.

I hope that hypothetical person knows exactly what I think about that line of would-be reasoning.  I dare them to make such comments to me in person.  Today, given how infectious I am, I double dare them.

I am incensed because I know for a fact that this parent is exposing other children to infectious diseases through their negligence (yes, I know what the proper pronoun is, but I'm not going to out anybody on a public site, so the grammarians will just have to live with it).  There is nothing I can do about the week my family has been through, but I can do something about future exposures.  I have and I will.  Enough said about that for now.

Excuse me, I think I need some juice.

Deb in the City

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Please bring the boring

 It's true- I used to wish for excitement.  Those days are long gone, but you never know when wishes are going to come true.

  • On Sunday, someone harassed me and Jazmyn on the T.  So much more to say, but I've been advised not to say anything else for a while.
  • I bought a candy bar later that day, and as I walked out a man came up behind me.  He asked me how many candy bars I ate every week.  I asked why he wanted to know.  He told me that they weren't good for my figure and if I ate too many I wouldn't look like a model.  I told him I didn't care whether I looked like a model, but thanks anyway.  Stuff you should know: I do not look like a model, this was not a flattering exchange and the man in question was about 70 years old.  Yep, and all the time.
  • I interviewed a learned and engaging person today.  I'm not revealing the identity until the interview is posted, but I've mentioned this person and his book on this blog.  I'm past gratitude that this person spoke to me; I'm stunned.  This was a good thing.  However, finding out that this person wanted to do a phone and not an email interview probably elevated my heart rate for a day.  Having to dial internationally for the first time in a decade did nothing to lower it.
  • Just as I was beginning to calm down and starting to think everything through, Jazmyn let me know that she and Sam were exposed to pertussis on Saturday.  Yes, there were multiple phone calls to the pediatrician.  I really, really do not want to hear from anyone for the next week about how much you don't want to poison your children with vaccines or that you're okay because of herd immunity. 

I'm really tired right now, and genuinely looking forward to household chores.  That, sadly, will also be exciting as I perform them with what I'm pretty sure is my burgeoning cold.

Deb in the City

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why are we afraid of health education?

If you knew what your iliopsoas was and what it does, you would cut your risk of lower back pain by 90%.  This is not a hypothetical suggestion; this is a fact.  I'll tell you what it is right now: it's your primary hip flexor.  It attaches to both your femur and your lumbar spine.  As it winds from the front of your leg to the back of your spine, it travels through your pelvis.  I bet you see the importance right now. Almost always, that pain you feel in your lower back is your poor, tightened, shortened iliopsoas pulling and sometimes spasming on you.  Solution: stretch the front of your leg.  Go into a lunge, bend your knee and grab your ankle behind you, whatever.  If you understand the muscle, this makes sense.  If you don't, your first impulse will be to stretch forward, thinking you're stretching your back.  However, that's only going to make it worse.

As a yoga and Pilates instructor, I'm frequently horrified by how little people know about their bodies, but I shouldn't be.  If I hadn't pursued a certain course of training, I wouldn't know these things either.  They weren't taught in schools, my parents never talked to me about the muscles of my body and for all of our civilization's emphasis on how our body looks, we are woefully neglectful about how our body functions.  That, as I have seen, is the real reason why yoga and Pilates exploded in popularity: even if the instructor doesn't quite understand function, if the exercises are taught with proper form you'll still get into the muscles other forms of fitness neglect.  I'm not the only instructor that has seen revelation on a participant's face as they move their body through their proper range of motion for possibly the first time.

But my knowledge is limited.  At the end of the day, all I did with a client or class is work with their muscles and their heart, lungs and, occasionally, brains.  Those are big deals but they aren't everything.  To be sure, many hold that certain movements and postures will get into your kidneys, liver and reproductive organs, but I never taught a class with those in mind.  It wasn't my area of expertise.

I wonder now if I should have done it anyway, especially with my childrens classes.  It's not like they were going to get any of that anywhere else.

I read this morning that about the amount of unsafe sex young people are having.  Not surprising considering the amount of sex education they're not getting, but still terrible in the 21st century.  (Or do I just need to adjust my ideas of what the 21st century should look like?)  I know that some people believe that sex education will somehow give children a license to have sex, but it has been my experience that knowledge only helps you make better decisions; it doesn't make those decisions for you. 

I'm doubly angry because sex education is a part of health education, and the kids aren't getting it.  Forget about your reproductive systems; a lot of people grow up without knowing where their lungs and stomach are- I am not making this up.  They don't know what their kidneys and spleens do, and most would be surprised by how important their liver is. 

It's true- you can stop someone from using some of their reproductive system to the fullest.  However, there is nothing you can do to stop someone from using the majority of their other organs.  So why make it so difficult for people to learn what exactly those organs are doing?

As far as I'm concerned, health education is Public Health 101.  We're going to be fighting preventable diseases and infections for a while if we don't teach people what their bodies do.  Chronic back pain is just the tip of the iceberg- would that everything else were as easy to remedy.

Deb in the City

PS Here is my piece for the JP Patch about why I'm supporting Felix Arroyo for City Council, inspired in no small part by his advocacy for Boston's youth.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I am not just the sum of my clicks

I took a social media break in August and did a lot of reading.  It was great.  In September, I started up again.  My verdict: I got a lot out of Twitter, Google + was useless and Facebook was getting on my nerves.  When they rolled out their newest changes to Facebook this week without any fanfare, I was annoyed.  It was when I heard about what they had in mind that I decided enough was enough.

It is not enough for Facebook that between 750 and 850 million people are registered users and that many feel like they can't leave because they are "locked in".  Now Facebook wants you to read the news, listen to music and watch movies on their platform.  Because every move you make and every step you take should be visible to all of your friends, those activities will be published to them.  And, according to Facebook, this is a good thing.  This will help me organize not just my user experiences but my identity and my life.  Because apparently my stories and my software applications express who I am.

The Hell they do.

Despite whatever you may think you know about me through whatever I have posted on an internet site, you do NOT know everything about me.  What I have written and interacted with expresses only a small part of who I am.  Some things I have written about at length, some things I have hinted at and some things I don't like to talk about, period.  People who have read my other blog know that I have a strange, possibly unhealthy obsession with Greek mythology.  Readers of this blog know that I homeschool my children, live in Boston, am a liberal Democrat and have more food sensitivities than anyone should.  But you don't know who my favorite teacher was in college, what my favorite class was, why I went to law school and then left or what made me decide not to go to business school after I got in.  You don't know why I gave my children the names I did and you don't know where all of my ancestors are from.  You don't know who I talk to, who my favorite writer is or the name of my fourth grade teacher.  You don't know what I wanted to do when I was nine.  You don't know why the year 1392 is important to me or why the word "Dresden" makes me want to cry.  You don't know what "Dong A Il Bo" is, why I started watching "Law and Order" or the things I wanted to watch when I was 17.

Most of things aren't secrets, but they haven't come up as a question on a website or application.  Some of these things are trivial, but some are very important to me.  And if you don't know some of these things, you don't really know me.  That's fine.  But let's not pretend that a bunch of websites and really thorough information aggregators can capture all of that or that the sum of what they can is "my life".

I will be blogging here and at my other blog.  I will be tweeting because I like many of the people I've "met" on Twitter.  I will be reading and writing.  I will do the other things I do that define me as a person, some of which I will share, some of which you can guess and some of which would surprise you to know.  Because that's how I roll.

I'm pretty sure the same can be said of all of you.

Deb in the City

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What I've read

1. At the suggestion of a friend, I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  A very good book I'm recommending everyone read, and I will post a review later this week.  But... maybe I didn't want to spend most of today crying.  In public.  Medical ethics, inequities, a little bit of child abuse, sexual abuse and the mistreatment of the disabled.... after reading this and the book about the 9/11 responders earlier this week, I need a belly laugh.

2. Privacy has been a theme lately.  I really don't want anyone tracking every damned mouse click everywhere I go, but I REALLY don't want people using my tissue samples in ways they don't tell me about.  I don't need to be compensated if my cells contribute in some way to finding a cure for cancer, but I want to be consulted.  And "well, if you don't like it don't come in" is a really poor answer.  Should I have to forgo a Pap smear or a blood draw because I can't secure where those products are going?

3. Patents have also come up more than once.  Pankaj Ghemawat, Professor Why-Don't-We-Talk-About-Data-Points-Before-You-Get-Worked-Up-About-Globalization, seems to agree with Rebecca Skloot that many patents are primarily benefiting the patent holder- not the customers, and certainly not the donors.  It's odious that an industry charging an arm and a leg from an AIDS patient in Africa isn't compensating those who donated their tissues in the first place.

4. I am waiting to read The Gargoyle now because another friend recommended it.  Having read the back cover, I'm not feeling comedy.  This had better be worth it.

5. If I don't laugh at least twice, that friend had better get cozy with Agatha Christie.

Deb in the City

Monday, September 05, 2011

The benefits of reading books

There's a lot to learn on the internet/world wide web/whatever you want to call it, and of course it's a lot of fun.  But as many of us know, we're in danger of falling into an echo chamber if we get all of our news from the great Information Super Highway.

Here is a sampling of some of the things I wouldn't have learned if I hadn't cracked open a book.  Yes, I believe all of this information is available in electronic format, but I wouldn't have gone looking for it.

  • There was much to love about The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You, and as you may see from my review, I was taken aback by a lot of it.  But the part that made my eyes bug out was the background information on Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.  He's made a couple of good calls, particularly around the internet and housing bubbles.  He also sees, as I do, an education bubble.  (Some of you might call this just "common sense", but we quibble.)  Where I completely disagree with him is his belief in the Singularity.  Let's sum that up as the emergence of super artificial intelligence, and some people believe it will even lead to a post-humanity.  I'm not making this up.  I may be alone in this, but I'm going to call that flat out crazy. 
  • I loved Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and The Consequences of a World Full of Men, and I hope to see more from Mara Hvistendahl.  (I've got a weakness for science writers who write books- see below.)  I read this because I had an interest in the loss of female births the planet- particularly Asia- has suffered from in the last three or four decades.  There was a lot that made American and Korean me squirm, but what made me gasp was finding out that John Maynard Keynes was one of the founding members of the Cambridge University Eugenics Society.  Again, not making this up.  (Do you believe it more knowing that he was the Treasurer?)  Do I believe in Keynesian economics?  Basically.  Do I ever want to get into a conversation defending it again?  Not really.
  • The myths busted in World 3.0: Global Prosperity and How To Achieve It were, as befits the scope of a book about international integration, larger in scope.  No, the world is not flat (sorry, Thomas Friedman) and no, McDonalds is not making everyone in the world a whore to Big Macs and french fries.  (Please read that last sentence again so it sinks in.)  However, while I suspected that immigration wasn't nearly as dangerous as we have been led to believe (I mean, nothing could be, right?), I did not realize that lowering the barriers to world migration would be not just beneficial to world GDP but also really beneficial, possibly doubling it.  (And no, that growth wouldn't come at the expense of the middle class.)  
  • But the greatest myth buster of them all is 1491: Rewriting the History of the Americas Before Columbus, written by science journalist Charles Mann.  No, Native Americans were not 1) quasi-mystical beings who were in tune with nature but rather 2) intelligent innovative human beings who mastered their landscape and 3) were much more populous than has previously been believed.  That we think otherwise is because European diseases spread quickly among the populations here and killed up to 95% of it.  With so many people gone, they could not shepherd their natural resources as they once had- hence, huge populations of buffalo and dense forests in New England by the 17th and 18th centuries.  (An aside: and were the Native Americans of the Amazon just lucky that the forests they came to live in just happened to produce all kinds of edible fruits and medicinal plants?  Almost like there was an intelligence behind the planting of those trees.)  With those lessons in mind, I found it irritating to listen to Radio Boston this past Friday, particularly the frankly dopey musings about an aborigine group that was the last to live in harmony with nature.  Please.
Deb in the City