28 February 2012

Dolly Excessories

When I got to the $100 bike, I threw the catalogue across the room and called it offensive.  The Mate wanted to know why it took me that long.

I'd been telling him about the $34 outfits and the $20 dog hiking accessory set and the $110 stable (horse extra).

It was the $100 bike, a bike designed as an accessory for a doll, that got to me.  You can buy an actual children's bike for $100.  Not that I'd spend that much on a bike for The Offspring.  My mother found one at a yard sale for $5, and I've got a hand-me-down stashed in a closet for when he outgrows that one.

And yes, you can also buy an outfit for a kid, an actual kid, for $34 or even a lot less.  Dog hiking accessories, on the other hand, would run more than $20.  I don't know why it was the bike.

I also don't know why the American Girl catalogue ended up in my mailbox.  Maybe the company got wind of the fact that I bought an aftermarket American Girl product from Amazon for one of my nieces.

On the one hand, if doting parents or aunts or grandmas can afford this stuff for their darlings, I suppose there's no reason they shouldn't buy it.  But the $100 bike collided in my head with families who can't afford to eat three solid meals a day or get health care or buy books.

And I flung the damn thing across the room.

23 February 2012

Not Why I Subscribed

This is not why I subscribed to Runner's World:
Flyers like this have been coming with almost every issue.  Note that it's just for women runners; men, presumably, look just fine already.  I wonder what kinds of flyers male subscribers get with their issues.

Some of the other reasons I'm not resubscribing:

They sold my name and address.  Shortly after I subscribed, I started getting all kinds of junk mail.  I don't know for sure, but I suspect that this is why I now get catalogues from Victoria's Secret.  If you've ever tried to get off that mailing list, raise your hand.  Goes on forever, right?

They started used my email address for all kinds of promotions, mostly trying to get me to buy products associated with weight loss.  They put me on a whole raft of different email lists, so I'd unsubscribe from one but then messages would crop up from a different one.

And for this... I paid good money.  Bye-bye, Rodale.

20 February 2012

"It Only Hurts When I Breathe"

It's a line from a Melissa Etheridge song, but I don't think she's thinking what I'm thinking when I go for a run in the cold after emerging from the stairwell in which some inconsiderate troglodyte has been smoking.  Again.

19 February 2012

Blame the Dead

Anthony Shadid died the other day, apparently of an asthma attack.  Shadid was a New York Times correspondent, and was 43 years old -- supposedly in the prime of life.  A reporter who wrote about his death found three different doctors to blame him for it:
Dr. Harold Nelson, a professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver,  said roughly 3,600 people die each year in the United States from asthma. ... “Individuals with asthma often underestimate the severity of their condition and often rely on ‘rescue medicine’ such as an albuterol inhaler to control their symptoms, he said. “These people are at increased risk of a severe and even fatal attack when they encounter ‘triggers’ for their asthma.”

“Being in a conflict zone, far from medical care, it is possible that Mr. Shadid focused on things other than his personal health,” said Dr. Sally Wenzel, director of the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute at UPMC, in an email to ABC News. “Often that may mean forgetting to take critical asthma medications that prevent severe asthma attacks, like inhaled corticosteroids.”
Doctors said that though Shadid’s circumstances may have made it difficult for him to ward off an asthma attack, most who live with asthma can take steps to protect themselves.
“Most deaths from asthma are preventable,” said Dr. Miles Weinberger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa. “A study on asthma deaths from the New England Journal of Medicine several years ago found that most were from what could be called ‘too little care too late’ — that is, there was sufficient time for intervention to have prevented the progression of an asthma exacerbation to a fatal conclusion.”
My mind is boggled, though it shouldn't be -- this fits right in with the blame-the-ill narratives that show up in the media on a regular basis.

Here's Pauline Chen, a doctor who narrates a couple of worst-case scenarios -- an overweight man with diabetes and heart disease, another person who keeps medicine with the cigarettes to help remember to take it -- with the implication that these are typical examples of patients who don't "comply" with medical advice. At least Chen acknowledges that doctors need to spend more time talking to patients about medications and lifestyle recommendations.

(That word "compliance" is big among doctors.  More on the problems with that, another day.)

And then there's Paula Deen, who has been much in the news lately, accused of causing her own diabetes with bad diet and then profiting off it by signing on to promote medication to help control blood sugar.

17 February 2012

Disability and Identity

Blogging about disease is by definition bad form.  Here's the first definition of "patient" from the Oxford English Dictionary: "Enduring pain, affliction, inconvenience, etc., calmly, without discontent or complaint; characterized by or showing such endurance."

I've been blogging about disease because I take issue with the prevailing medical and social models that suggest that a person is either sick or healthy, and that health is necessary for well-being.  I want to challenge this paradigm, to demonstrate that it's possible to live, and live well, with permanent impairment and/or chronic illness.

But the very definition of "patient" gives me a sense of unease about doing so.  I feel as though I'm violating social expectations of cheerful endurance by raising the issues in public rather than remaining stoically silent.

And yet, I carry on.  I think it's important to make the point that illness is a part of life.  It shouldn't be the defining feature of identity for someone who lives with chronic illness or impairment, yet social convention makes it a defining feature by placing the disabled and diseased into a separate social category.  

In fact, we have multiple other identities, shaped by profession, ethnicity, race, class, and gender.  Social paradigms need to shift so that we can see -- literally see! -- beyond markers of disability and engage with others as human beings.

12 February 2012

Not So Small Changes

It's February already, and I've had one brief, mild bout of bronchitis: nothing like the weeks and months of illness and fatigue of recent winters.

I've made two changes in the past several months.

My new doctor told me my vitamin D levels were on the low side, and recommended a supplement. (The old doc, when I asked, said "That lab always reports low values. You don't need it.")

My family has also been turning off all the machines on Shabbat, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.  Sometimes we go hiking on Saturday, sometimes we just stay home.  I often do some reading to prepare for the coming week's classes, but the rhythm of the day is completely changed.  I get a day of rest.

I don't know which to credit with improving my health, but I'm going to keep on with the vitamin D and the day of rest, and hope it keeps on going.

09 February 2012

Commuting Woes

Commuting by bike and train four days a week means 20 hours a week in transit.  Here's the breakdown for the curious:

4 hours biking
2 hours waiting for trains
1.5 hours reading am New York, doing KenKen and Sudoku
30 minutes on the phone with people at work
2 hours catching up with friends and family
10 hours reading for classes, grading papers, or doing administrative work

It's mostly productive time, and I've come to value particularly the hour a day on the bike, especially along the river at the end of the day.  And it gives my day some structure, which turns out to help a lot since I'm otherwise quite prone to procrastination.  

But I'll be very happy when the semester ends.  I typically go to campus one day a week in the summer, working at home the rest of the time.  It makes the work load and the crazy schedule during the semester possible.

05 February 2012

Do I Buy An IPad?

So I've been thinking about getting an iPad, but I'm also thinking about the reports of labor abuse in the Chinese factories where iPads are manufactured.

It looks as though lousy labor practices are widespread in the computer, tablet, and phone industries.  Plus the use of rare minerals whose purchase funds violence.  In other words, Apple isn't alone in using suppliers with lousy labor records; much of the stuff we consume is (comparatively) inexpensive precisely because manufacturing is outsourced to places where laws to protect workers are weak or nonexistent. 

Do I hope that the increased attention to Apple, and their publicized audits of the practices of manufacturers in their supply chain, will improve labor practices not only in places that manufacture for Apple, but also more broadly in China? 

Or am I just rationalizing my own desire for a piece of hardware that I hope will make it easier for me to get stuff done, but also looks really cool?

02 February 2012

Hershey Takes a Baby Step

Labor rights and fair trade groups have been putting pressure on Hershey for several years to improve its practices in West Africa, where chocolate farms use forced child labor for agricultural work.

The International Labor Rights Forum scheduled an advertisement to run during the Superbowl.  More than 100,000 people have signed petitions and written to Hershey asking the company to change its practices. And they've just announced that by the end of 2012, they will use independently certified chocolate in its "Bliss" products.

Hershey sells more than two dozen brand names (including Dagoba and Sharffenberger, in case you thought they were still independently owned), and the Bliss line accounts for a relatively minor portion of Hershey's $6 billion on annual revenues. 

So keep the pressure on.  Sign the petition here, if you're so inclined, or go to the Hershey's web site and send them a note directly.  Meanwhile, when you're buying chocolate (or coffee or tea), look for the Fair Trade label.

01 February 2012

Time Travel

Back in 1987, Shanghai had a lot of loudspeakers mounted on high poles throughout the residential areas of the city.  Music would flow from them, and announcements I couldn't understand, and every morning at 7, music accompanied by counting.

Outside the building I lived in, a group of women would gather each morning and do tai chi to the beat of the music.  I wanted to join them, but between the hour (I'm not a morning person) and the fear of not being able to communicate with them, I never did.

It's one major regret about my time spent teaching English there, from August 1987 to July 1988.  The other is I've lost touch with all of the Chinese people I knew there, particularly our friend Xiao Ye, a fellow English teacher.

I did a lot of interesting other things.

When some American hikers were arrested on the border between Iraq and Iran, and people talked about idiotic young people, The Mate and I remembered that we went some places in China where we weren't supposed to go, simply buying tickets to small towns, taking the train, getting out, and walking around -- all completely illegal. That's how we saw the Great Wall, in a run-down spot in the middle of nowhere, far from the sections outside Beijing reconstructed for tourist consumption.

We visited Xian, more legally, and saw the Xing Xi Huang warriors in situ during the archaeological excavation. We traveled north to Harbin, in the former Manchuria, in the depths of winter, walked across the frozen Songhua river, looked at fabulous ice sculptures.  We ate all kinds of interesting things, both in restaurants and purchased at the markets and cooked at home.  We walked and took local buses all around Shanghai and other cities we visited, and got to know them from the ground up.

On my morning bike ride along the East River, there's a section under the FDR Drive where, if it's raining, a group of women gathers to do tai chi, accompanied by scratchy music from a boombox.  Each time, it brings me back to that year in Shanghai.

Today, one of the women was wielding a sword.  I wished I'd learned enough Chinese to stop and chat with her, maybe find out if women traditionally do tai chi with swords in China, or if this is a recent innovation.