Saturday, July 16, 2011

A rainbow of potions and pills (by Skylanda)

The New York Times this week reports on a phenomenon that you’ve likely experienced if you take more than a couple of prescription drugs, or especially if you care for an elderly parent who juggles a rainbow of blood pressure meds, statins, prostate shrinkers, memory enhancers, and other sundry pills and potions: all that confusion that happens when one generic pharmaceutical is substituted for another, and suddenly a little oval pink pill they’ve been taking for years is substituted with an oblong white pill and the patient no longer has any idea what they are taking for what purpose anymore.

The article suggests that the problem lies in the transition that occurs when expensive branded drugs go generic: you knew that your Viagra was a little blue diamond because Pfizer masterminded a decade-long PR program to ensure that you knew this. But when the little blue pill or the big purple pill turns into a bland little yellow thing, the patient loses the differentiation between those and the six other bland little tablets they are taking. Lipitor is next on the block to go generic this year – and about time: as one of the highest-potency anti-cholesterol drugs, a generic Lipitor could stop the hair-splitting between those who can take the old low-potency statins and those who need the expensive blockbuster cholesterol medications like Crestor and Lipitor. But still: those generics will be variable, produced by dozens of generics makers, likely in a rainbow of neutral colors - instead of the old oval white that Lipitor users have been taking since the drug came onto the market 14 years ago.

Marketing people argue that the look of a pill is part of a company’s right to set their product aside from all other products – including generic equivalents; generics should not carry the same look of branded Viagra or Prilosec (the famed first Purple Pill) because that was part of the propriety marketing of the patented drug. Proponents of drug safety argue the opposite: that changing the drug’s look when it goes off-patent to a variety of appearances that change every time a pharmacy stocks a different supplier contributes to confusion, non-compliance, and even harmful drug errors. (This would also save me at least half a dozen conversations a week in which a patient tries to explain which medication they are taking by saying, “You know, it’s a that little yellow one with the oval shape, you must know what it is…” I try to cut these conversations short as fast as possible: I do not know what pill that is, and there is no utility to my committing these thousands of variations to memory. I prescribe between 20-50 medications on a daily basis, and some hundreds more as a matter of course, most of which have dozens of generic variations. You want your doctor to spend their free brain space reading up on the latest data, engaging in lively discussions with colleagues about the evidence on controversial cases, maybe reviewing ways to make their office practice more efficient. You do not want them wasting space limited brain space brain memorizing the size and shape of infinite varieties of generic pills.)

To a certain extent, I agree with the latter: confusion would drop precipitously if one drug always came in the same form, no variation between size, shape, or color. But there is a fundamental flaw in that thinking, a deeper problem with pharmaceutical labeling, and a systematic fix parallel to the color and size issue that strikes deeper at the heart of medical error:

Currently, all medications on the market are required to carry a unique identifier code; to figure out what a drug is from the code on any pill, you essentially have to run it through a program that is designed to suss out this information. This code identifies the drug and maker, but often with letter and number combinations that have nothing to do with what is in the pill – they just have to use a unique code (AN 627, for example is – inexplicably – one formulation of tramadol). What would work better? Regulators could require that the unique identifier be almost microscopically small, but that every pill actually have the generic name and dose imprinted or inscribed on it. Like this.

This may not solve the issue of the elderly patient whose sight is beginning to fail but who is still juggling their own medications – certainly the big-pink-pill versus small-yellow-pill is going to be a lot easier to distinguish than the tiny writing it will take to fit words like “atorvastatin 20mg” on a standard Lipitor tablet. But it will help caretakers keep the jumble of meds apart – and it can help give hospital and care facility nurses a layer of final checks on medications that are completely lacking now: when you know you are supposed to be handing out the combination blood pressure drug Zestoretic but the only marker on the pill is an “A” on one side and a “26” on the other, you have no final verification that you chose the right medication from the supply, that the Pyxis machine spat out the right drug, that you did not mix up the drugs between the first patient’s room, the emergency call back to the desk, the stop by a third patient’s room who has been frantically delirious all night, and finally back to the room of the second patient who is receiving the medication: all part of the normal chaos that nurses cope with on a shift-wide basis.

Forcing the use of generic names from the day a drug is marketed would also encourage an early familiarity and reliance on generic names, which separates providers and patients from the attachment to well-branded and well-marketed drugs later on. In training I had faculty who refused to let trainees use brand names of drugs – even those which had no off-patent equivalent – because they were so passionate about the effect of branded drug pricing on health care costs; it was atorvastatin or no name at all.

In medicine – as in most disciplines – some errors are fundamentally due to individual incompetence and cannot be fixed by systemic solutions; these are few and far between. Most errors have systemic solutions that could drastically reduce harm, and this is a core example of them. Maintaining the same shape, size, and color to medications across the generics would be ideal, but labeling clear identifiers on pills at all is such a fundamentally much more important issue that has largely not even hit the radar: a issue of convenience, an issue of efficiency, and moreover, an issue of safety for you and your family as the patients who rely on these products to maintain their health.

Cross-posted from my recently relocated and re-launched blog at America, Love it or Heal It.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back To The Fifties? Credit Cards And Stay-At-Home Parents

You probably did not pay much attention to the Credit Card Act of 2009. In any case, it was full of goodies for the consumers, including stricter regulations about when companies can market credit cards to people under 21 years of age. The basic requirement is that the applicant must be able to pay back the money owed or must have a cosigner capable of doing so.

But the Federal Reserve recently expanded this rule to people over 21 years of age. This is very bad news for stay-at-home parents, most of whom are women. From last March:
The U.S. Federal Reserve approved a rule that would require credit-card issuers to consider consumers’ individual incomes before extending credit.
Credit-card applications generally can’t request “household income” because that term is too vague for issuers to evaluate whether customers will be able to make the required payments on the accounts, according to a statement from the Fed today. The rule is needed to prevent making credit available to consumers who lack the ability to pay, the Fed said.
The change is supposed to limit issuers from giving cards to college students, yet some lawmakers have been concerned that stay-at-home spouses will suffer.
“The proposed regulations ignore their demonstrated credit-worthiness because of their lack of current market income,” Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who sponsored the credit-card bill and Representative Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, said in a letter to the Fed in January.
Card issuers can allow spouses to apply jointly for credit, the Fed said.

Or in simpler terms:
Earlier this year, the Fed ruled that credit card applications should ask about a consumer’s individual income or salary rather than his or her “household income.” This isn’t just for students under 21, but for everyone. That means that a stay-at-home parent is considered as unworthy of credit as an unemployed college kid–and seven out of eight stay-at-home parents are mothers. No one without a pay stub, no matter the value of her contribution to her household, can get a line of credit unless her spouse cosigns the account.
In response to criticism from women’s rights advocates who believe that access to credit is a key tenet of financial independence, the Federal Reserve noted that the individual-income provision may be “inconvenient or impractical,” but that such restrictions are necessary to prevent reckless lending and borrowing.
Or in even simpler terms: A stay-at-home spouse must ask the breadwinner spouse's permission to get a credit card, but that same breadwinner spouse does not need the stay-at-home spouse's permission! Financial inequality will be neatly built into these relationships. It really is back to the fifties, my sweet readers.

And what happens if the breadwinner spouse refuses?

The underlying thinking is obvious: The money the breadwinner earns is just his (or her) money, not the family's money! And the stay-at-home partner is worth nothing.

And this is just inconvenient or impractical?

I guess one might argue that every person should carefully consider this before becoming a stay-at-home parent.

Irreconcilable (by res ipsa)

I finally got Blue Valentine from Netflix (and by the way, I am sticking with the DVD plan; not enough selection for streaming only, but I digress...).

This is one of those "Portrait of A Relationship's Disintegration" movies. I thought the acting was excellent, but the movie was a bummer, which wasn't where I wanted to go on the particular day I watched it (which in turn begs the question of why I rented it in the first place, but again, I digress...).

In the movie, the lead character decides to terminate a pregnancy. She goes to a clinic and before the procedure, a nurse asks her the following questions:

"At what age did you first have sexual intercourse"?
"How many sexual partners have you had"?
"Does the father know about this pregnancy"?
"Is the father supportive"?
"Is this your first pregnancy"?

I am curious about two things. First, are these questions typically asked before an abortion? I asked one woman I know who had the procedure and she said she was not asked such questions, but as we know, one does not a data set make. It must vary from state to state; that portion of the movie was set in Pennsylvania. More importantly, how are the answers to the first four questions medically relevant? I can see how the question about number of prior pregnancies would be, but the first four seem designed to shame the patient. It would not surprise me to know that such shaming happens (and by the way, if it's legislatively mandated, that would be a First Amendment violation), but I do want to know if its typical in reality, or if the movie was trying to shame the character.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Got Milk? On Cows and Bitches.

The California Milk Processor Board and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners have created a new ad campaign to get "somebody" to drink more milk because, they say, it helps with PMS. I put the word "somebody" in quotes because those quotes are the gist of this post.

But first let's back-track a bit: Here is what Adweek wrote about the campaign:
Today's deep, patient sigh goes out to the California Milk Processor Board and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners for their new "Got milk?" campaign positioning milk as a cure-all for the grab bag of unpleasantness known as PMS. They tried this once before, in 2005. The new campaign is called "Everything I Do Is Wrong," and with headlines like "We can BOTH blame myself" and "I apologize for letting you misinterpret what I was saying," it presents women as more uncontrollably irrational than ever before! The print ads send you to a Flash-heavy microsite (how quaint!) that tracks the global PMS level and helps men create apology videos with big-eyed flying kittens.
Examples of the ads:

The idea is that milk will help with PMS and make men's lives easier. More on the scientific basis for that milk-PMS connection can be found at the MS Blog:
The California Milk Processor Board’s latest campaign is meant to raise awareness of milk’s health benefits in reducing the symptoms of PMS. The campaign is not targeted at women, though, but at dudes.


Connie Bohon, an ob-gyn in Washington, D.C., calls the link between milk and PMS “soft,” telling the Washington Post, “There are some beliefs that calcium can improve PMS symptoms [but] I don’t know that it’s universally accepted.” The belief is based on a 1998 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology–a study sponsored by SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare, makers of calcium-supplying TUMS–which found that women who took 1,500 milligrams of calcium via supplements experienced nearly a 50-percent reduction in PMS symptoms. Still, there’s no clear evidence that this would work the same with calcium-rich foods like milk.

Because the campaign is being positioned partly as a public service announcement, it straddles the line between commercial marketing (the profit motive) and social marketing (the do-good motive). In this case, the Milk Board appears to want to improve women’s health, but ultimately, commercial profit is their bottom line. It’s frustrating enough when advertisements capitalize on anti-feminist messages, but it’s absolutely maddening to see commercial marketing masked as social marketing and using the same anti-women tactics.
Got it? It's a fascinating tangle of stuff: PMS jokes, henpecked men, health benefits, obvious traps for feminazis to step in with their mustachioed angry faces (can't you get a joke? PMS bothering you?).

That's why it's useful to go back to my initial question, the one about the "somebody" in the campaign who is supposed to drink more milk and how that is going to be achieved.

That "somebody" is a woman with PMS. But the ads are not aimed at her, and the benefits the ads tout are not about the possible connection with calcium and reduced discomfort before menstruation. Nope. The benefits are to henpecked men! So the "somebody" the ad is aimed at is a man, although he is not urged to drink more milk. Rather, he is urged to urge her to drink more milk so that he can get a more peaceful life with less henpecking. Women will be more logical while on milk!

It's a win-win.

Coming Soon to a TV Screen Near You (by res ipsa)

A new documentary: Gloria: In Her Own Words. Unfortunately, no trailer available yet. First airdate is August 15th.

I can't think of any other feminist in my lifetime, save maybe Jane Fonda, that has been the target of so much sneering contempt and looney hatred as Gloria Steinem.

Good News Two

This would be the number of young women and girls who did well in Google's first science fair:
Shree Bose, age 17, from Fort Worth, Tex., won the grand prize for developing a way to improve ovarian cancer treatment for patients who have developed a resistance to chemotherapy. Naomi Shah, 16, from Portland, Ore., found ways to improve indoor air quality and decrease people’s reliance on asthma medications. And Lauren Hodge, 14, from Dallastown, Pa., researched the effects of different marinades on potential carcinogens in grilled chicken.

“As a girl, to see that my gender actually is going to come into this field that’s been so dominated by men is exciting to me, and to be a part of that is even more exciting,” Ms. Bose said in an interview.
This is good news from a feminist point of view not because the girls dominated in this particular case, but because a major misogynist argument is that women cannot invent anything whatsoever.

Good News One

The quarterfinal soccer game between the U.S. and Brazilian women's teams. It was an exciting game and it was taken seriously as a game. The othering of women was minimized and the idea of what sports are supposed to be reigned:

Though I must admit that I have not read the YouTube comments were the dregs of humanity often gather.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Women’s rights are human rights (by Suzie)

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.
-- Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sept. 5, 1995 at the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing.

This may sound like common sense, but it took women around the world to push for this understanding. The idea got traction in the early ‘90s, according to an excellent essay by Charlotte Bunch and Samantha Frost, experts on global women’s rights. I remember when Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch began to pay more attention to women’s rights.

Not everyone has gotten the memo, however. Some liberal/leftist men continue to see rights specific to women as secondary to fears about governments intruding on their own rights. A prime example are supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who don’t understand that sexual abuse infringes on women’s human rights.

In Britain, Assange has hired a team of human-rights lawyers to replace his previous attorneys. Last month, one of his new lawyers, Ben Emmerson, was appointed the UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. I don't expect him to care about the rights of women, judging from his performance this week in court, where Assange appealed his extradition to Sweden.

In the July 7 Nation, Assange fan Tom Hayden wrote: “The original heroic narrative about revelations of war crimes and government secrets is frequently diverted today by speculation about sex crimes …” He then lists important revelations from WikiLeaks. He didn't list statistics on sex crimes. A summary of Bunch and Frost's essay puts his writing into perspective:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 [applies] to women. However, tradition, prejudice, social, economic and political interests have combined to exclude women from prevailing definitions of "general" human rights and to relegate women to secondary and/or "special interest" status within human rights considerations.
Many societies separate what happens in public and in private. On both sides of the political spectrum are people who want to limit how much the government meddles in their private lives. Human-rights activists have focused on the public sphere, specifically on how governments have abused citizens. The problem for women is that they are more likely to be abused by men in private, with mostly male authorities ignoring those abuses.
[W]omen have traditionally been relegated to the "private" sphere of the home and family; the typical citizen has been portrayed as male, and thus the dominant notions of human rights abuse have implicitly had a man as their archetype. Thus, abuses done to women in the name of family, religion, and culture have been hidden by the sanctity of the so-called private sphere …
Conservatives have been skeptical of social and economic rights, such as health care, decent housing and proper nutrition, saying this smacks of socialism. I’d add that some liberal men have argued that social and economic rights take precedence over civil and political rights – not for them – but for women, especially poor ones. The argument goes like this: Poor women in X country need food and shelter; they don’t have time to worry about sexism. Men making this argument don’t get that gender discrimination hurts women’s abilities to secure housing, work, shelter, etc.

They are thrilled that WikiLeaks exposed government abuses, but they don't understand, or choose not to understand, that it's a basic human right for women to have control over their bodies, without being raped; without acquiescing to sex because they feel like they have no choice; without men disregarding their desire to wear a condom.

More on Betty Ford (by res ipsa)

As a follow-up to Saturday's post about Betty Ford, here is an interesting opinion about Ford from yesterday's NYT by Nixonland author Rick Perlstein. In it, the reader learns not only that Betty and Gerald Ford once owned (and presumably played) "The Women's Liberation Board Game," but also that Betty Ford had a following among gay men. Perlstein speculates that the letters from gay men he read at a Ford family estate sale after President Ford's death must have been prompted by remarks Betty Ford made on gay rights at some point. So in addition to abortion, sex, infidelity, addiction, cancer, and the Equal Rights Amendment, a first lady addressed some topic of importance to gay men. Watergate, gas lines, and bad music notwithstanding, the Seventies weren't all bad.

I wonder what Betty Ford would have thought of New York's new marriage equality law -- and marriage equality in general?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Today's Recommended Reading on the Economy

Is this article by James Galbraith. It is clearly written and offers a point of view which is rare in the mainstream media.

Apropos of nothing, the whole government deficit debate and its sudden appearance out of nowhere might just turn me into a conspiracy theorist, especially after that Let's-Invade-Iraq message late in 2001.

In both cases the reasons for the sudden emergence of a particular topic remained completely unclear to me. People were not talking about the need to invade Iraq right after 911, and neither were people talking about the Deficit Monster this year until someone decided that it would be the topic of this season.

We are being led by the nose, my sweet readers. Just thought I'd point that out.

Five Sexist References in Just One Show! Well Done, Fox News.

Via Media Matters:

I will give you only the first example from that video:
Greg Gutfeld Twice Compared Government Spending With "A Wife And Her Credit Cards." Discussing the debt ceiling, panelist Greg Gutfeld said, "That's the problem with being president: You love raising the debt ceiling. It's like a wife and her credit cards. Americans have to be the husband that takes the credit card and breaks it up." He later said of President Obama: "He's like your wife running around with your credit cards."
Gutfeld assumes:
a) that the husband is the one whose money the family spends
b) that the wife spends that money (which belongs to the husband only) in a reckless fashion, until the husband breaks up her credit cards
c) that the viewer of this program can easily identify with the husband rather than the wife.

There's more about sugar daddies and prostitutes and mistresses. Most every type of woman, from stay-at-home-wives to prostitutes got bashed in just that one show!

I felt sad for those two women sitting at that desk, because by inference they were what Gutfeld (mostly it was him) used to ridicule the government. And they just sat there.

Orrin Hatch Sure Has A Big Hatch

So I am irked. Orrin Hatch thinks that the rich pay too large a share of the federal income taxes in this country:
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) took to the floor of the Senate on Monday afternoon to defend comments he made last week about the poor needing to "share some of the responsibility" for shrinking the national debt.


"It touched a nerve because last week after I raised this issue on the Senate floor, MSNBC and the liberal blogosphere -- presumably armed with the talking points from the Senate Democrat war room -- went ballistic suggesting that I wanted to balance the budget by raising taxes on the poor," Hatch said.
"I'm not surprised, but this completely misses my point and the point, and the point is this: no matter what these Democrats tell you, the wealthy and middle class are already shouldering around 100 percent of the nation's tax burden, and 51 percent pay absolutely nothing in income taxes," Hatch said.
"Keep in mind, I don't believe we should tax the truly poor, but now that's up to 51 percent in just over two years of this administration -- people who don't pay income taxes," Hatch said. "Are they all truly poor? I don't know. All I know is that it doesn't sound right that the majority of people -- the majority of tax units -- in this country do not pay income taxes, and the minority has to carry the burden."

He's pretty careful to point out that his figures only cover federal income taxes. The total taxes in this country also include state and local taxes and sales taxes, for instance.

But that's not what made me so irked (my new favorite adjective). Consider this example: A small community has 100 tax units. Ninety-nine of them have seen their earnings fall to 200 quatloos a month per household, while the taxable income begins at 300 quatlooss. One member, however, earns now a million quatloos per month and pays all the income taxes in the community.

Is a minority supporting the whole tax load? Sure. Is this unfair? Nope.

I made my example an extreme one but similar trends apply in the United States. The inequality in income and wealth is increasing, and the proportions in which the wealthier classes pay federal income taxes is roughly in proportion to their share in total incomes earned. Of course they have loads more wealth on top of that, and wealth is taxed much more gently than income.

Another way to respond Senator Water-Carrier For the Billionaires is by pointing out that if he wants to increase the tax-paying base for federal income taxes he should work for a more equal distribution of income in the society. Get jobs for the jobless and they start paying taxes! It's a win-win.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Today's Echidne Thought: On What Opinions Mean.

It would be easier to write a post if one didn't have to do research first, sigh, just as it's easier to give strong opinions without first thinking about the topic carefully. Or at all.

This has to do with something I read quite a while ago which stated that opinion writers should write about topics on which we don't have any good evidence, that this is the proper role of opinions, and that those opinions should be strong ones, to maximize readership.

I was left shaking for a while after absorbing that, because everything I wrote was All Wrong! It was a liberating moment, exhilarating even. But it left me thinking that I should simply kill this blog. You can see the ladders and maps (or training wheels on my bike) in the archives everywhere, the attempt to base things on evidence, the hedging and on-the-other-handing! I'm a wimp goddess. Yessir.

The most recent reason for this whining post is with the burden of doing research on why people vote against their own best economic and sociological interest. I get entangled in those academic articles, coming out covered with spiderwebs and soot and carrying the oddest academic terms in my hands, to ponder over them for hours. What do people mean when they say that voters want structure? What do they mean when they talk about values? Why are my values not real values and why is the structure I want not regarded as a structure?

Now, had I written that post on why peasants vote for their feudal overlords without doing any research the post would have been snappy and spiffy and clear. Who knows what it will be now if it ever gets created.

Which is to point out that pure opinion writing might be easier, after all.

The Vow Bachmann and Santorum Took

You probably have heard about it. It's a vow to go along with a rather extremest traditional-patriarchal-marriage guys in Iowa, and Bachmann signed it. Santorum appears to have agreed to it, too.

The initial version of the vow started like this (click on the pfd on that page):
Faithful monogamy is at the very heart of a designed and purposeful order – as conveyed by Jewish and Christian Scripture, by Classical Philosophers, by Natural Law, and by the American Founders – upon which our concepts of Creator-endowed human rights, racial justice and gender equality all depend.2
Enduring marital fidelity between one man and one woman protects innocent children, vulnerable women, the rights of fathers, the stability of families, and the liberties of all American citizens under our republican form of government. Our exceptional and free society simply cannot endure without the transmission of personal virtue, from one generation to the next, by means of nurturing, nuclear families comprised of sexually-faithful husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. We acknowledge and regret the widespread hypocrisy of many who defend marriage yet turn a blind eye toward the epidemic of infidelity and the anemic condition of marriages in their own communities. Unmistakably, the Institution of Marriage in America is in great crisis:
 Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African- American baby born after the election of the USA‟s first African-American President.3
Well, you can imagine how well that disgusting reference to slavery as being beneficial to African-American families was received. So the new version of the vow removed the slavery reference.

But all the rest of the fun was left untouched! Thus, we are told that women will be protected by not letting them become subject to the shariah law! And by not being allowed to participate in military combat roles! Protection of the innocent fruit of conjugal relations AND of women requires fighting abortion, which is lumped together with such evils as sexual trafficking. Also, tax policies, welfare policies and divorce laws must be changed to protect the traditional patriarchal marriage. That will protect innocent women and their fruits, too.

Then there is this bit about those marital fruits:
Recognition that robust childbearing and reproduction is beneficial to U.S. demographic, economic, strategic and actuarial
health and security. 20
It must be code! What on earth does robust childbearing mean? Tough giant women squatting down to give birth while hoeing the potato fields? I doubt it. It probably means that women should be encouraged to have many children. Some writers have suggested that this is code for the Quiverful movement which requires women to maximize the number of children they can deliver. What the women themselves think does not matter.

Indeed, this is the problem of everything in this vow if you read it carefully. Women are resources to be protected, just as children are to be protected. The protection, however, is not supposed to come from laws and the government (which the vow wants to see much diminished) but from....?


The Invisible Jobless

This is a good article as the starting point of a discussion about the invisible unemployed, about the way we all suddenly worry about government deficits when we did not worry about them during the eight long years of the Bush Reich, about the way jobs are supposed to be so very important in politics but in actual fact matter not at all, about the takeover of state governments by the forces of Sauron (killing off the unions, the funding base of the Democratic Party, for instance) and about the oddly phlegmatic Democrats on all levels of government.

As I said, in a long-winded way, the article is but a starting point. It ends with this, for example:
Mr. Lichtenstein, the historian, notes that it took awhile for the poor to mobilize in the Great Depression. Many initially saw President Roosevelt as an ally and only later became disillusioned. As Langston Hughes wrote in a 1934 poem, “The Ballad of Roosevelt”:
The pot was empty,
The cupboard was bare.
I said, Papa,
What’s the matter here?
I’m waitin’ on Roosevelt, son,
Roosevelt, Roosevelt,
Waitin’ on Roosevelt, son.
For the moment, jobless Americans are waiting on President Obama. If unemployment stays as high as many expect, and millions exhaust their benefits, they may just find their voice in 2012.

Here's the problem with that: What would their voice be, given the two-party system? I guess they could always vote back the people whose policies caused this depression, which would be the Republicans, for more of the same.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

In the shadows of Las Conchas (by Skylanda)

Two weekends ago, on one of those glittery bright, hot mornings that New Mexico is known for, I drove up to Los Alamos to have breakfast with a friend. The most notable event on the horizon was a plume of smoke from the Pacheco fire on the opposite side of the valley, by afternoon nearly obliterating the view of the east-side Sangre de Christo mountains. By the end of next day, a second plume had arisen on the west side Jemez mountains, and the hills were on fire in what has become the largest wildfire in New Mexico's history.

More notably, the Las Conchas fire – named for its original flash point in a pretty little canyon in the highlands that I remember as the place where a friend once made a comical attempt at teaching me how to rock climb – butted dangerously close to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and its legacy of Cold War-era waste and cast-offs. An all-out effort to protect the lab and the town ensued, with over 2,000 personnel on site at the height of the effort last week. The fire was diverted from lab property and, at least insofar as data that has been released goes, the cloud of smoke and ash that has periodically descended over Santa Fe and the Espanola valley in the two weeks since does not hold any more health threats than any other cloud of smoke and ash might.

Not so lucky were the pueblo lands surrounding the lab – the homelands of people who go by names like Cochiti, Pojoaque, Jemez, Santa Claran. An undercurrent of rage from some quarters in the pueblos has contrasted sharply to the feel-good community effort Santa Fe put out to house and host refugees from the evacuation of Los Alamos, one of the wealthiest and most well-educated communities in the United States. The lab was protected while the pueblos burned, it is argued, the wealthy homes on the mesa were taken care of while the native lands were consumed in flame; you can debate the intent, but resulting disparities are hard to miss.

But this is a far from simple circumstance of resource distribution to the wealthy and poor, and the race lines that accompany those delineations. The blaze had to be stopped at the LANL boundary; no one, in any community, would have seen any good from the vaporization of some tens of thousands of surface-level barrels of solvent- and plutomium-laced legacy waste being housed on LANL land. Moreover, Los Alamos benefitted from a very unwitting benefactor: the remarkable burn scar of the Cerro Grande fire, which denuded the hillside above town over ten years ago, burning so hot that the usual post-conflagration flourishing of flora and fauna never took hold. Cerro Grande – which burned into both LANL and the town of Los Alamos in the year 2000 – is a large part of what protected Los Alamos this time around.

That is not by any means to say that a travesty of environmental justice was not committed. It was, but it did not start in this week with this fire. It started centuries ago with the colonization of pueblo land, of course, but for useful purposes the metaphorical accelerant hit the flame in the 1940s when the Manhattan Project to build the first nuclear bomb was situated on the pretty little mesa that is the home of the first atomic bombs and a now legacy stockpile that would make New Mexico one of the world’s top nuclear powers were it to secede from the rest of the United States. In this article, a woman from the Santa Clara pueblo describes the shattering of a native belief system after LANL arrived: how can one maintain the spiritual relationship to such things like rain and fire if you know those things may now carry the silent killer of radioactive and chemical waste – especially from the days when phrases like “environmental protection” had not yet begun to exist. The future of LANL is even further complicated by the construction of a new plutonium processing facility on the lab site, essentially a brand new bomb-building factory, to the tune of $6 billion in taxpayer money – a rankly anomalous development under a federal regime that has made a loud public show of nuclear arms control as a goal.

Yet few people in New Mexico really want to see LANL go altogether; in a region that that barters back and forth with a couple of states in the deep south for the bottom rung of every marker of poverty and mal-development, Los Alamos is an oasis of education and income that spills over to the surrounding neighbors and influences the per capita indices of wealth inexorably upwards. There are no easy answers here.

It was less than 4 months ago that an earthquake and tsumani put Japan’s nuclear industry on notice that even with the best of intentions and the most technically proficient means, human efforts cannot predict or control the stochastic vagaries of natural and unnatural disasters. Los Alamos skated a hair’s breadth from those same lessons these last two weeks; though we escaped unscathed this time, let us learn them anyway: the health of people and the move to good stewardship will not start with the renewal of the dream of the Manhattan Project. There are too many variables; there are fires in the night, there are earthquakes at dawn, there are decades of broken trust behind the gated curtains that ring the LANL property. This is no place to be making nuclear bombs. Nowhere is any place to be making nuclear bombs.

Los Alamos sits on the edge of an ancient super-volcano known as the Valles Caldera; on a recent night, driving through the Espanola valley at dusk, the flame-out from one finger of the Las Conchas fire burned so bright that traffic stopped along the highway to gawk at what appeared from miles away to be flow of molten lava down the slope linking Los Alamos to the rest of the world. In a way, it was an unearthly beauty: a thing you do not forget. For today, the wind blows north again and the skies are clear over the valley, while the fire rages elsewhere: too easy to forget, while still it burns. Let us remember though, and take these days forward, and make amends, and try to leave the fire the next time to burn clean, not with the hazy legacy of a half-century’s worth of bitter waste.

A Guest Post by Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Seven: The Fourteenth Century to the Fifteenth Century

(Echidne's note: Earlier parts of this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 ,part 5 and part 6.)

Julian of Norwich (c. 8 November 1342 – c. 1416) was one of the most
important English mystics, venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran
churches. Little is known of her life apart from her writings. However,
it is known that at the age of 30, suffering from a severe illness and
believing she was on her deathbed, Julian had a series of intense
visions of Jesus Christ. She was at home during this time, and gives no
mention of her personal life up unto that point, so some scholars have
suggested that Julian was unmarried or possibly a widow who lost her
husband and children in the plague. In any case, Julian wrote down a
narration of the visions immediately following them, which is known as
The Short Text of the Revelation of Love. Twenty to thirty years later
she wrote a theological exploration of the meaning of the visions,
known as The Long Text of the Revelation of Love. These visions are
also the source of her major work, called Sixteen Revelations of Divine
Love (circa 1393). This is believed to be the first book written in the
English language by a woman. Julian's theology was optimistic, speaking
of God's love in terms of joy and compassion as opposed to law and
duty. For Julian, suffering was not a punishment that God inflicted, as
was then the common understanding. She believed that God loved and
wanted to save everyone. Similarly, Julian saw no wrath in God. She
believed wrath existed only in humans but that God forgives us for
this. Julian's theology was controversial in regard to her belief in
God as mother. In her fourteenth revelation, Julian writes of the
Trinity in domestic terms, comparing Jesus to a mother who is wise,
loving, and merciful. Julian's revelation revealed that God is our
mother as much as He is our father. Julian became well known throughout
England as a spiritual authority: the English mystic (and author of the
first known autobiography written in England) Margery Kempe mentions
going to Norwich to speak with her. Grace Warrack's 1901 version of
Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, with her sympathetic informed
introduction, introduced most early twentieth-century readers to
Julian. After this, Julian's name spread rapidly as she became a topic
in many lectures and writings. In 1979 an annotated edition of Julian's
work was published, and after this her book was widely sold and
discussed, at a time of renewed spiritual searching by many. Her books
are widely available in English.

Christine de Pizan (also seen as de Pisan) (1363 – c. 1430) was a
Venetian-born woman of the medieval era who strongly challenged
misogyny and stereotypes prevalent in the male-dominated medieval
culture. As a poet, she was well known and highly regarded in her own
day. In her The Tale of the Rose (1402) and Letters on the Debate of
the Romance of the Rose (1403), she attacked Jean de Meun’s writing for
its immoral, often vicious portrayals of women. She endured criticism
for being too pointedly on the defensive. By 1405, Christine de Pizan
had completed her most successful literary works, The Book of the City
of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies, also called The Book
of the Three Virtues. The first of these shows the importance of
women’s past contributions to society, and the second strives to teach
women of all estates how to cultivate useful qualities in order to
counteract the growth of misogyny. The Book of the City of Ladies is
commonly held to be the first feminist text written by a Western woman.
Christine’s final work was a poem eulogizing Joan of Arc. Written in
1429, The Tale of Joan of Arc celebrates the appearance of a female
military leader who, according to Christine, vindicated and rewarded
all women’s efforts to defend their own sex. Besides its literary
qualities, this poem is important to historians because it is the only
record of Joan of Arc outside of the documents of her trial. After
completing this particular poem, it seems that Christine, at the age of
sixty-five, decided to end her literary career. The poem is available
in English and French at The
standard English translation of The Book of the City of Ladies is by
Earl Jeffrey Richards (1982). The first English translation of The
Treasure of the City of Ladies, also called The Book of the Three
Virtues is Sarah Lawson’s (1985). Some of Christine's writings about
Jean de Meun's writing are available in "Debate of the Romance of the
Rose (The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe)", translated by David F.

Margery Kempe (c. 1373 – after 1438) is known for writing The Book of
Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to be the first autobiography
in the English language. This book chronicles, to some extent, her
extensive pilgrimages to various holy sites in Europe and Asia, as well
as her mystical conversations with God. She is honoured in the Anglican
Communion. Her work is widely available in English.

Teresa de Cartagena (b. c. 1425) was a Spanish author and nun who fell
deaf between 1453–1459, which influenced her two known works Arboleda
de los enfermos (Grove of the Infirm) and Admiraçión operum Dey (Wonder
at the Works of God). The latter work represents what many critics
consider as the first feminist tract written by a Spanish woman. Both
Arboleda and Admiraçión are semi-autobiographical works that provide an
authentic written voice of the Medieval female, a true rarity among
works of the Middle Ages. Teresa’s first essay, Grove of the Infirm,
examines the effect of her deafness on her life and its spiritual
development. After being devastated by the initial onset of the
illness, Teresa meditates in the silent prison of her deafness and
ultimately concludes that God has afflicted her in order to separate
her from the distractions of everyday noise. After much reflection in
the prison of echoing sounds within the cloisters of her ears, Teresa
reasons that her soul would have been purer if she had never been
exposed to speech at all, which makes one turn to the outside material
world and forget the inner spiritual world. The copyist, Pero López,
indicates that her work was addressed to Juana de Mendoza, wife of
Gómez Manrique, a poet and prominent political figure of the time, but
within Arboleda, she addresses a “virtuosa señora” (virtuous lady) who
may be Juana de Mendoza and suggests a female audience at large.
Despite her strategies to disarm the male reader in Arboleda, men still
rejected Teresa’s work as plagiarized. In response to this male
criticism, she composed Admiraçión operum Dey, making the argument that
if God created men who could write, then he could just as well have
created women who could write, and while men have been writing for
centuries, it does not make it any more natural for them to write, but
rather it seems natural because men have been writing for such a long
time. In addition, simply because women have not traditionally written
like men, it does not mean that female writing is any less natural.
Cleverly, Teresa argues that if God bestows a gift upon men then he can
just as well bestow the same gift upon women, thus concluding that the
criticisms of her opponents call into question God’s authority to
distribute gifts and consequently offend him. The “virtuosa señora”
addressed in the second work as in the first acts as the female
listener who sympathizes with Teresa’s concerns. To further illustrate
her point, the author makes use of various imagery and references,
alluding to the Bible story of the powerful Judith who kills Holofernes
after a whole army of men could not perform the task. She also expounds
upon the virtue of the interior life of the housewife. Her writings are
available in English as "The Writings of Teresa de Cartagena:
Translated with Introduction, Notes, and Interpretive Essay.",
translated by Dayle Seidenspinner-Núñez.

Gwerful Mechain (1462-1500), who lived in Mechain in Powys, is perhaps
the most famous female Welsh-language poet. Little is known of her life.
Her work, composed in the traditional strict Welsh poetic meters, is
often a celebration of religion and sex, sometimes within the same
poem. Probably the most famous part of her work today is her erotic
poetry, especially Cywydd y Cedor ("Ode to the Pubic Hair"), a poem
praising the vulva. It is a work in which she criticizes male poets for
celebrating so many parts of a woman's body, but not their genitals.
"Let songs to the quim circulate," she declares. As for the pubic hair:
"Lovely bush, God save it." This poem is available in English. Unfortunately there does not appear to be an English translation of a
collection of her poems at this time. If you know of one please mention
it in the comments.

Laura Cereta (1469–1499) was a Renaissance humanist and feminist. Most
of her writing was in the form of letters to other intellectuals. After
the death of her husband she concentrated on scholarly pursuits,
publishing a volume of her letters in 1488, called Epistolae
familiares. She was highly criticized for publishing her own work. Her
father died six months after she published her letters, and she no
longer felt inspired to write because of her father's death and the
large amount of criticism from both men and women of her time. Cereta
died unexpectedly in 1499 at the age of 30. No writings from her last
years of life survived. In her letters, Cereta defended women's right
to education and fought the oppression of married women. Her letters
circulated widely in Italy during the Early Modern Period, and laid the
groundwork for the feminism of the Enlightenment. Cereta's letters also
discussed war, death, fate, chance, and malice. Her letter to Bibolo
Semproni has one of the few medieval references to the 1st century BC
woman poet, Cornificia. Unlike most women of her time, Cereta was able
to partake in letter writing because she had the social contacts to
participate. Laura Cereta's complete letters are available in English
as "Collected Letters of a Renaissance Feminist (The Other Voice in
Early Modern Europe)", translated by Diana Robin.