dimanche, décembre 23, 2007

marbled caramel chocolate slice

I made these for the first time this year at my holiday cookiepalooza. I was able to get some out of the house (with strenuous objections from Leo) and take them to work. They were everyone's favorite cookie in the assortment I brought in.

For the base:
2 1/4 cups plain flour
a scant half cup of caster (superfine) sugar
3/4 cup of unsalted butter, softened.

For the filling:
7 TBSP of unsalted butter, diced
a scant half cup of light muscovado (brown) sugar
2 14oz cans of sweetened condensed milk

For the topping:
3 1/2 oz plain, semisweet chocolate
3 1/2 oz milk chocolate
2 oz white chocolate
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line and lightly grease a 13x9 jelly roll pan. Put the flour and caster sugar in a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Work with your hands until the mixture forms a dough.
  2. Put the dough into the prepared pan and press it out with your hand to cover the base. Then, use the back of a tablespoon to smooth it evenly into the pan. Prick all over with a fork and bake for about 20 minutes, or until firm to the touch and very light brown. Set aside and leave in the pan to cool.
  3. To make the filling, put the butter, muscovado sugar, and condensed milk into a pan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture very gently, stirring constantly for about 5-10 minutes until it has thickened and turned slightly darker. Take care that the mixture does not burn on the base of the pan, as this will spoil the flavor. Remove from the heat.
  4. Pour the filling mixture over the cookie base, spread evenly and then leave until cold.
  5. To make the topping, melt each type of chocolate separately in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of hot water. Spoon lines of plain and milk chocolate over the set caramel filling.
  6. Add small spoonfuls of white chocolate. Use a skewer to form a marbled effect on the top.
  7. Let set, then heat a sharp knife in boiling water and cut into bars.

Makes about 24

rosti potatoes with ham and cheese

2 lbs all-purpose potatoes, preferably yukon gold, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup chopped scallions (about 4 green onions)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 tsp olive oil
2/3 cup finely chopped smoked ham (about 3 oz)
1/2 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 oz)

  1. Set oven rack at lowest level and preheat to 450F.
  2. In a medium-sized saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water. Cover and bring to a boil. Drain and refresh with cold water. When cool enough to handle, grate by hand or in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl. Add scallions, salt, and pepper. Toss with a fork until mixed.
  3. Brush 3 tsps of oil evenly over the surface of a 10-inch pie plate or cast iron skillet. Spread 1/2 of the potato mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan.
  4. Sprinkle with ham and cheese.
  5. Spread the remaining potato mixture over the top, pressing evenly. Brush the remaining 1 tsp of oil over the surface.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the underside is golden and the potatoes are tender.

362 calories per serving. 13 grams protein. 11 grams fat. 55 grams carbohydrate. 634 mg sodium. 22 mg cholesterol. Serves 4.

samedi, décembre 22, 2007

how a UNICEF photo makes the west's heart ache

I am thankful each and every day that I was born in the time, place, and class that I was. Each give me choices (freedoms, if you will) that I would not have otherwise. I don't take those for granted and cannot sit in silence when I learn about injustice.

Case in point: it's hard to stomach this child bride and the circumstances that led to her wedding and the inevitable (?) outcome for her life. Call me judgemental if you must. But that won't keep me from being outraged and encouraging others to take action, too.

This sobering image, showing a 40-year-old groom sitting beside his 11-year-old
future bride in Afghanistan, brought Stephanie Sinclair top honors in the annual
Photo of the Year contest sponsored by the United Nations Children's Fund

Opinion: How a UNICEF Photo Makes the West's Heart Ache
SPIEGEL ONLINE - December 20, 2007, 05:03 PM
An 11-year-old child bride sits next to her 40-year-old fiance. For UNICEF, this was the Photo of the Year. Dutch writer Leon de Winter laments the perversity of this wedding picture and the frightening relativism of the West.

There are people who will look at this image and be able to continue with business as usual -- without disgust, nausea and rage. We are beholding the fiercest barbarism imaginable. But a carefree cultural relativism -- which this age has donned as its outward manifestation of decadent indifference -- allows many to simply look away. They turn away from the sight of an 11-year-old girl, who is about to be raped by the man sitting next to her.


The girl was sold by her parents, even if they probably wouldn't use that word. The caption that came with the photo quoted the parents as saying that they "needed the money."

The girl's soon-to-be husband promised to send his 11-year-old bride to school, but the women living there in the village of Damarda in Afghanistan's Ghor province don't believe this fairytale. They predict that the girl will bear children soon. "Our men don't need educated women," they point out.

A dowry was paid for the girl. The dowry is part of the cultural fabric of the clan-based society. As producers of newborns, women are valuable possessions. A woman can bear sons and fighters, who will defend the family and its honor. Men are only charged with protecting them against kidnappers and thieves, and women need only accept the power of the male members of the family -- "for their own benefit."

Love Is a Word from the Decadent West
It is likely that all of the female forebears of the girl in the photograph were likewise sold -- and the girl, no doubt, saw it as her fate. At the same time, she realizes that what is happening to her is not right. She might think it is "natural" for a young girl to be sold, but she also knows that it's neither good nor legitimate for her to spend the rest of her life as this man's slave. It is a type of knowledge that has little to do with experience. Rather, it is knowledge that is rooted in humanity, and in the hopes and dreams of a little girl.

The man in the image is oblivious of his wrongdoing. He's only doing what his forefathers did. Sticking to traditions increases the chances of survival. His seed will create a new person and strengthen the clan. He will impregnate this girl without love and without regret, since love is a word from far-off stories and songs, a word from the decadent West, where people have no comprehension of the harshness of life in the desert and of war without end, which is the essence of life in this part of the world.
What we witness in this photograph is an unadorned view of humanity's collective past, of the horror of our brutal nature. Love, tenderness, beauty, individuality and respect are all phenomena that we have imposed upon our nature. Since time immemorial, this nature has allowed only the strongest to survive. In our Western consciousness, we have suppressed this nature with conviction and success. This image shows a small, everyday moment that wouldn't surprise anyone in the Taliban -- but looks quite different to our eyes.

A Bold Statement in the Era of Political Correctness
Our eyes behold an abomination. Our eyes have learned to see the world from the perspective of a slowly acquired sense for humanity. And although more and more voices tell us that we -- the former colonialists and imperialists -- have lost the right to judge other cultures, we know just as well as this girl that this marriage is wrong.

I believe that there are regressive cultures. In an era of political correctness, this is a tricky statement. But there is no other statement that can be made about this image. We behold a regressive man, who is taking what he has purchased.

Many of us in the West are convinced that our presence in Afghanistan cannot be justified, that our troops should withdraw and that Afghanistan should be left to the Afghans. They ask themselves: Who are we to believe that it is inhumane to sell an 11-year-old girl? Who are we to impose our values so vehemently on the Afghans, on this man and on this girl?

I don't have a clue who we are. But I know that this universe is not only a universe of iPods, Disneylands, CO2 penalties, tax write-offs, and New Year's sales in our department stores. No, I know that this is also a universe of human rights. I know that this universe is deeply shaken -- right down to its core -- by the suffering of this lonely, lonely little girl.
Via Leo

nutters are us

In the US, the leading Republican (and Democratic) candidates are falling all over themselves to demonstrate their values, faith, and religiosity in a country ostensibly founded on the principle of the separation of church and state. And don't even get me started on Mitt Romney and the GOP field and their efforts to prove that they are Christian enough to satisfy the fundies.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair just converted to Catholicism, after leaving office. My favorite part of this story is this quote: "The former prime minister told the BBC this year that he had avoided talking about his religious views while in office for about 10 years for fear of being labeled 'a nutter.'"

Touché, Tony. Touché.
Blair converts to Catholicism
LONDON, England (AP) -- Tony Blair, who often kept his religious views private while serving as Britain's prime minister, has converted to Catholicism, officials said Saturday.

Blair, who had long been a member of the Church of England, converted to the Catholic faith during a Mass held Friday night at a chapel in London, the Catholic Church said.

"It can be confirmed that Tony Blair has been received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor," the head of the church in England and Wales, the church said in a statement.

"I'm very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church," the statement quoted Murphy-O'Connor as saying.

"For a long time he's been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he's been following a program of formation for his reception into full communion. Our prayers are with him, his family and his wife at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together," Murphy-O'Connor said.

There had long been speculation that Blair planned to convert to Catholicism. His wife, Cherie, is Roman Catholic, the couple's children have attended Catholic schools, and Blair had regularly attended Catholic, rather than Anglican, services.

Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy, met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in June.

The former prime minister told the BBC this year that he had avoided talking about his religious views while in office for about 10 years for fear of being labeled "a nutter."

In England's last census, 72 percent of people identified themselves as Christian. Many are Anglicans affiliated with the Church of England, which was created by royal proclamation during the 16th century after King Henry VIII -- who married six times -- broke ties with the Roman Catholic Church in a dispute over divorce.

The Church of England has said that less than 10 percent of its members are regular churchgoers.

Britons often are surprised by people who openly and fervently discuss their religious views, and the degree to which faiths such as evangelicalism can influence U.S. politics.

jeudi, décembre 20, 2007

the real story of "gloria"

What comes to mind when I mention the 1980s smash hit "Gloria"? Odds are, if you're Italian, she's the object of a masturbatory fantasy. If you're a Spanish speaker, she's also sexual (but in a non-specific way). If you're American/Australian/someone who speaks English, she's someone with issues. Here's how we reached that conclusion ...

Leo procured some of my favorite Spanish-language Christmas carols (Villancicos) yesterday. They are sung by Parchís, a child supergroup formed in Spain in the late 70s. (Think Menudo or New Kids on the Block -- but male and female, like Kids Incorporated.)

Then, out of nowhere, I sang the refrain "Parchís, chis, chis" from another song (that I don't remember at all) and it got stuck in his head (because he remembers it). We hopped onto YouTube and found several Parchís videos, including one for "Gloria" -- sung in Spanish. I realized that the Parchís version was released in 1979, a few years before Laura Branigan's Grammy-award winning (and career-making) version. Game on -- we had to know if Laura Branigan ripped off her megahit from a bunch of cheesy Spanish kids whose signature look involved monochromatic leisure suits.

That led us to Wikipedia. "Gloria" is by an Italian, Umberto Tozzi, and the original lyrics are racy (we think they're really about masturbation) and nothing like Laura Branigan's version. What puzzles us is why Parchís (kids, really) sang the same sexy song (less masturbatory, and seemingly more directly sexual) and how that got past the censors. Our only explanation was that it was four years post-Franco, during Spain's "let's go completely crazy because we just outlived our fascist dictator" period.

For your viewing pleasure, the videos and the lyrics are posted below.

By the way, Umberto Tozzi remains one of the most popular Italian singers abroad, and in the course of his career has sold more than 45 million records, including the mega-hit "Ti Amo," which Leo also recognized from his childhood. I've included it here in Italian, and in Italian with a studio audience, followed by a duet of "Tu" with Celene in French.

"Gloria," the original, but translated into Spanish. Umberto Tozzi, 1979. (Check out the video's chromakey special effects!)

"Gloria," the original, in the original Italian. Umberto Tozzi, 1979. (A live action performance in front of the Italian video. Bravo, Umberto. Brav-o.)

"Gloria," in Spanish. Parchís, 1979. (You know the lead singer wanted the song to himself and that the kids in the background are dancing in a goofy way to distract everyone from the sexual lyrics.)

"Gloria," in English (cleaned up lyrics). Laura Branigan, 1982. (This time, the song's lyrics have been sanitized, but Laura's choreography is sexy.)

Original lyrics
Italian lyrics
manchi tu nell'aria
manchi ad una mano
che lavora piano
manchi a questa bocca
che cibo piu non tocca
e sempre questa storia
che lei la chiamo Gloria.

Gloria sui tuoi fianchi
la mattina nasce il sole
entra odio ed esce amore
dal nome Gloria.

Gloria manchi tu nell'aria
manchi come il sale
mi manchi piu del sole
sciogli questa neve
che soffoca il mio petto
t'aspetto Gloria.

Gloria chiesa di campagna
acqua nel deserto
lascio aperto il cuore
scappa senza far rumore
dal lavore dal tuo letto
dai gradini di un altare
ti aspetto Gloria.

Gloria per chi attende il giorno
e invece di dormire
con la memoria torna
a un tuffo nei papaveri
in una terra libera
per chi respira nebbia
per chi respira rabbia

per me che senza Gloria
con te nuda sul divano
faccio stelle di cartone
pensando a Gloria.

Spanish lyrics
faltas en el aire
falta tu presencia,
cálida inocencia
faltas en mi boca que sin querer te nombra
y escribiré mi historia con la palabra Gloria

Porque aquí a tu lado la mañana se ilumina
la verdad
y la mentira
se llaman Gloria

Faltas en el aire
faltas en el cielo,
quémame en tu fuego
fúndeme la nieve
que congela mi pecho
te espero Gloria

Campo de sonrisas
agua en el desierto,
corazón abierto
aventura de mi mente
de mi mesa y de mi lecho
del jardín de mi presente
te espero Gloria.

por quien espera el día
y mientras todos duermen,
con la memoria inventa
aroma entre los árboles,
en una tierra mágica
por quien respira niebla,
Por quien respira rabia

Te fundes en sus besos,
te desnudas provocando
y hago sombras en el techo,
pensando en Gloria

Faltas en el aire
faltas en el cielo,
quémame en tu fuego
fúndeme en la nieve
que congela mi pecho
te espero Gloria

(Gloria) campo de sonrisas (Gloria)
agua en el desierto
(Gloria) corazón abierto (Gloria)
aventura de mi mente
de mi mesa
y de mi lecho
del jardín de mi presente
te espero Gloria
English lyrics
you're always on the run now
Running after somebody, you gotta get him somehow
I think you've got to slow down before you start to blow it
I think you're headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it

You really don't remember, was it something that he said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?
Gloria, don't you think you're fallin'?
If everybody wants you, why isn't anybody callin'?
You don't have to answer
Leave them hangin' on the line, oh-oh-oh, calling Gloria

Gloria (Gloria), I think they got your number (Gloria)
I think they got the alias (Gloria) that you've been living under (Gloria)
But you really don't remember, was it something that they said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?

A-ha-ha, a-ha-ha, Gloria, how's it gonna go down?
Will you meet him on the main line, or will you catch him on the rebound?
Will you marry for the money, take a lover in the afternoon?
Feel your innocence slipping away, don't believe it's comin' back soon

And you really don't remember, was it something that he said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?
Gloria, don't you think you're fallin'?
If everybody wants you, why isn't anybody callin'?
You don't have to answer
Leave them hangin' on the line, oh-oh-oh, calling Gloria
Gloria (Gloria), I think they got your number (Gloria)
I think they got the alias (Gloria) that you've been living under (Gloria)
But you really don't remember, was it something that they said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?
Translated lyrics
Spanish translation of Italian lyrics






English translation of Spanish translation





English translation of original Spanish lyrics
You’re missing in the air
Your presence is missing
Warm innocence
You’re missing in my mouth that without wanting to names you
And I will write my story with the word

Because here next to you the morning lights up
the truth and the lie are called Gloria

You’re missing in the air
You’re missing in the sky,
Burn me in your fire
Melt the snow
That freezes my chest
I await you Gloria.

Field of smiles
Water in the desert,
Open heart
Adventure of my mind,
My table, and my bed
Of the garden of my present
I await you Gloria

For whom the day waits
And while everyone sleeps,
With the memory invents
Aroma amongst the trees
In a magical land
For whom fog breathes
For whom rage breathes

You melting in her(?) kisses
You disrobe provocatively
And I make shadows on the ceiling
Thinking of Gloria

You’re missing in the air
You’re missing in the sky,
Burn me in your fire
Melt the snow
That freezes my chest
I await you Gloria.

(Gloria) smiles (Gloria)
Water in the desert
(Gloria) open heart (Gloria)
Adventure of my mind my table
And my bed in my garden this you hope Glory

Gloria, (Gloria)
Field of smiles (Gloria)
Water in the desert, (Gloria)
Open heart (Gloria)
Adventure of my mind,
My table, and my bed
Of the garden of my present
I await you Gloria.

seeking solace

Leo and I finally went to Urban Solace (3823 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104, (619) 295-6464) last week. We heard about the place through Yelp and it got a rave review from City Beat in the "Best of San Diego" issue, so we knew that we had to experience the mac and cheese firsthand.

The place is "American comfort food," but not what you'll get in a greasy spoon or local diner. It's fancier food, in a comfortable (but beautiful) setting.

They don't take reservations, but you can call ahead and they'll add you to their waiting list 30 minutes before you arrive. When we walked in, our table wasn't quite ready, so we hit the bar for some wine and an appetizer.

We opted for Zin and Syrah and the "Pile of Warm Cheese Biscuits with Orange-Honey Butter." It was awesome. Then, we were seated and proceeded to get the "Wisconsin White Cheddar Mac n’ Cheese, Caramelized Bacon, Charred Tomatoes" and the "Char-Grilled Hanger Steak, Homemade Steak Sauce, Caramelized Parsnips, Celery Root Mash" (which has really great julienned sweet potato sticks as a garnish). Both entrees were excellent.

We were pretty full but figured that dessert was also in order. (At that point, we had decided to get our friends gift certificates there as Christmas gifts and had to sample the dessert to know what we were recommending to five different sets of friends. Really.) After an intense negotiation, we settled on the sweet potato and pecan pie with two cups of tea.

Our amazingly tasty meal was very reasonable and the service was excellent -- four glasses of wine, one appetizer, two entrees, one dessert, and two teas came to about $70 (plus tip). We'll be seeking solace again soon.

fun physics

I dig this guy!
At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star
Published: December 19, 2007
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at M.I.T. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.

Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.

“Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple,” a 17-year-old from India e-mailed recently.

Steve Boigon, 62, a florist from San Diego, wrote, “I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes.”

Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.

In his lectures at ocw.mit.edu, Professor Lewin beats a student with cat fur to demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off.

He was No. 1 on the most downloaded list at iTunes U for a while, but that lineup constantly evolves. The stars this week included Hubert Dreyfus, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Leonard Susskind, a professor of quantum mechanics at Stanford.

Last week, Yale put some of its most popular undergraduate courses and professors online free. The list includes Controversies in Astrophysics with Charles Bailyn, Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer and Introduction to the Old Testament with Christine Hayes.

M.I.T. recently expanded its online classes by opening a site aimed at high school students and teachers. Judging from his fan e-mail, Professor Lewin, who is among those featured on the new site, appeals to students of all ages.

Some of his correspondents compare him to Richard Feynman, the free-spirited, bongo-playing Nobel laureate who popularized physics through his books, lectures and television appearances.

With his wiry grayish-brown hair, his tortoiseshell glasses and his intensity, Professor Lewin is the iconic brilliant scientist. But like Julia Child, he is at once larger than life and totally accessible.

“We have here the mother of all pendulums!” he declares, hoisting his 6-foot-2, 170-pound self on a 30-pound steel ball attached to a pendulum hanging from the ceiling. He swings across the stage, holding himself nearly horizontal as his hair blows in the breeze he created.

The point: that a period of a pendulum is independent of the mass — the steel ball, plus one professor — hanging from it.

“Physics works!” Professor Lewin shouts, as the classroom explodes in cheers.

“Hi, Prof. Lewin!!” a fan who identified himself as a 17-year-old from China wrote. “I love your inspiring lectures and I love MIT!!!”

A fan who said he was a physics teacher from Iraq gushed: “You are now my Scientific Father. In spite of the bad occupation and war against my lovely IRAQ, you made me love USA because you are there and MIT is there.”

Professor Lewin revels in his fan mail and in the idea that he is spreading the love of physics. “Teaching is my life,” he said.

The professor, who is from the Netherlands, said that teaching a required course in introductory physics to M.I.T. students made him realize “that what really counts is to make them love physics, to make them love science.”

He said he spent 25 hours preparing each new lecture, choreographing every detail and stripping out every extra sentence.

“Clarity is the word,” he said.

Fun also matters. In another lecture on pendulums, he stands back against the wall, holding a steel ball at the end of a pendulum just beneath his chin. He has just demonstrated how potential energy turns into kinetic energy by sending the ball flying across the stage, shattering a pane of glass he had bolted to the wall.

Now he will demonstrate the conservation of energy.

“I am such a strong believer in the conservation of energy that I am willing to risk my life for it,” he says. “If I am wrong, then this will be my last lecture.”

He closes his eyes, and releases the ball. It flies back and forth, stopping just short of his chin.

“Physics works!” Professor Lewin shouts. “And I’m still alive!”

Chasing rainbows hooked Mr. Boigon, the San Diego florist. He was vacationing in Hawaii when he noticed the rainbow outside his hotel every afternoon. Why were the colors always in the same order?

When he returned home, Mr. Boigon said in a telephone interview, he Googled rainbows. Within moments, he was whisked to M.I.T. Lecture Hall No. 26-100. Professor Lewin was in front of a few hundred students.

“All of you have looked at rainbows,” he begins. “But very few of you have ever seen one. Seeing is different than looking. Today we are going to see a rainbow.”

For 50 minutes, he bounds across the stage, writing equations on the blackboard and rhapsodizing about the “amazing” and “beautiful” physics of rainbows. He explains how the colors always appear in the same order because of how light refracts and reflects in the water droplets.

For the finale, he creates a rainbow by shining a bright light into a glass sphere containing a single drop of water.

“There it is!” Professor Lewin cries.

“Your life will never be the same,” he tells his students. “Because of your knowledge, you will be able to see way more than just the beauty of the bows that everyone else can see.”

“Professor Lewin was correct,” Mr. Boigon wrote in an e-mail message to a reporter. “He made me SEE ... and it has changed my life for the better!!”

“I had never taken a course in physics, or calculus, or differential equations,” he wrote to Professor Lewin. “Now I have done all that in order to be able to follow your lectures. I knew the name Isaac Newton, but nothing about Newtonian Mechanics. I had heard of the likes of Einstein, Galileo.” But, he added that he “didn’t have a clue on earth as to what they were all about.”

“I walk down the street analyzing the force of a boy on skateboard or the recoil of a carpenter using a nail gun,” he wrote. “Thank you with all my heart.”

mardi, décembre 18, 2007

some christmas faves

Some of my holiday faves, in no particular order... I left the Parchis Spanish-language stuff off, 'cause I can't find "Los Peces en el Rio" on You Tube.

Bono and the boys, back in the day... "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)."

Sean and Kirsty, and Matt Dillon with a cameo in "The Fairytale of New York."

Sting, pre-tantric yoga, "Gabriel's Message."

Run D.M.C. "Christmas in Hollis." A staple of my 80s childhood, much to my mother's horror.

Hands-down best Christmas duet ever: Bing and Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy/ Peace on Earth."

Band Aid: "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Bob Geldof and Midge Ure wrote a song and invited all their hottie friends to sing it, and gave the money to charity. (I could listen to Bono and Sting harmonize for days... and that was my favorite part of the video, too.)

Otis Redding sings my favorite version of "White Christmas."

Billy Mack's "Christmas Is All Around" still slays me.

Annie Lennox and the Reverend Al Green: "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," a cheesy song featured from an awesome movie. I watched the video about 1000 times on VH1 that year.

The Waitresses, "Christmas Wrapping."

Wham, "Last Christmas" (also loved by Trevor, my workout buddy and fellow Francophile).

And a funny take-off of "Los Peces en el Rio"

lundi, décembre 17, 2007

pardon me?

Last night, an intelligent, rational guy at a dinner party announced that women don't have it as bad in Iran as we think they do. That touched off a brief conversation that was quickly abandoned to keep the peace. (I couldn't disagree more with him and wonder if he knows Shirin Ebadi, Zahra Kazemi, or Jafar Panahi's stories.)

Meanwhile, here is news from Saudi Arabia, where twisted notions of honor are even more problematic for women.
Pardon Reported for Saudi Rape Victim
Published: December 18, 2007

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — King Abdullah has pardoned a woman who was sentenced to 200 lashes after pressing charges against seven men who raped her, a Saudi newspaper reported Monday.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Ministry of Justice or the Ministry of Information, but the newspaper, Al Jazirah, is close to the religious establishment that controls the Justice Ministry, Reuters reported.

The case has provoked a rare and angry public debate in Saudi Arabia, leading to renewed calls for reform of the Saudi judicial system.

The rape took place a year and a half ago in Qatif, a small Shiite town in the Eastern Province, center of the Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. The woman, who has been publicly identified only as the “Qatif girl,” said she met a former boyfriend to retrieve a photograph of herself. They were sitting in a car together when seven men attacked, raping them both.

The woman and the former boyfriend were originally sentenced to 90 lashes each for being together in private, while the attackers received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison, and 80 to 1,000 lashes each. For a woman to be in seclusion with a man who is not her husband or a relative is a crime in Saudi Arabia, whose legal code is based on a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law.

Her lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahem, a well-known human rights activist, appealed, saying the attackers’ sentences were too lenient and that of the victim was too harsh. The appeal brought down the wrath of the court. In November, it doubled the woman’s sentence and stripped Mr. Lahem of his license to practice, but also increased the sentences of her attackers to prison terms of two to nine years.

Mr. Lahem could not be reached by phone late Monday, but the editor in chief of Al Watan, a leading Saudi daily that Mr. Lahem writes for, said that it has been known in Riyadh political circles since early this month that the woman would be pardoned. The editor, Jamal Khashoggi, said he believed that the timing of the pardon, on the eve of the Id al-Adha holiday, was coincidental.

“I’ve been hearing for two or three weeks now that the pardon would be issued,” Mr. Khashoggi said in a telephone interview.

“It has been expected that the girl would be pardoned in the end — in similar cases, very public cases like this, it has been the same. One of our writers was recently sentenced to a number of lashes and received a pardon from the king.”

Mr. Khashoggi said that the woman, who has married, had been living freely while her case was being appealed. There have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her to remove the “stain” to the family’s honor, and bloggers and international human rights activists have expressed concern for her safety.

The Saudi minister of social affairs, Dr. Abdul Mohsin Alakkas, reached by telephone, said that Saudi women who run into trouble with the law frequently fear retribution from their relatives. Some women who serve prison time refuse to leave prison at the end of their sentences, he said. The Ministry of Social Affairs operates special shelters for these women, and Dr. Alakkas said the Qatif victim would be able to live in one.

“If after the pardon she decides that she needs housing because of her circumstances, then we will offer that,” he said.

Commenting on the pardon, the Saudi justice minister, Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Sheik, told Al Jazirah that the king fully supported the verdicts against the woman but had decided to pardon her because it was in the “interests of the people.”

Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University who specializes in Saudi Arabia, said that this is a kind of “double message” that is commonly employed by the Saudi government.

“On one hand this tells people, ‘We support our system and we will punish you if you violate it,’ ” he said. “Yet he’s also showing mercy. Throughout, he’s making it clear that he is not disagreeing with the judge’s opinion on this sensitive issue of sexual chastity, but he believes that there is a higher interest to be served by the pardon, whether that’s relationships between Shiites and Sunnis, or international opinion.”

“Conservative scholars and judges will still take this pardon as a slap in the face,” Dr. Haykel continued.

“These decisions are always made like this, ad hoc, so that the core values and institutions of the Saudi state are not questioned or threatened.”

overcoming the tyranny of the gift

I have been registered as an organ donor since I turned 18. In college, I was typed and registered with the National Marrow Donor Program. But nowadays, I can't even give blood. To be fair, no one wants my blood, marrow, or organs because they carry the stigma (and risk) of cancer.

My bout with kidney cancer left me with one kidney instead of two. Although my creatinine, BUN, and other tests still have me in the "normal" kidney function range, I am very careful with the kidney that's left. I'm just hoping that I'm not in the position where I need a transplant or any medical heroics later in life.

This story left me thinking about how we as a society can better help those who in need of a transplant. I like the author's suggestion that we find ways to create incentives for donors. I realize that it's a sticky subject and a difficult public policy issue, but if we provided Medicare for life or some other long-term benefit (not short-term/ coercive incentives), I believe that we'd have a great deal more matches made and lives saved. (The simple fact is that charity/ altruism alone are not enough of an incentive.)

Meanwhile, when my time on this planet comes to an end, my living will stipulates that my organs be offered for transplant to anyone who needs (and wants) them. Failing that, I'd like for my body to be used for science. After all, I won't be needing it. And in the end, knowing that my body can help someone else (by saving a life or advancing human knowledge) is the best and highest purpose I can think of for something that I've quite literally outlived.
Desperately Seeking a Kidney
Published: December 16, 2007

In the fall of 2005, I started my first online relationship. He was a 62-year-old retiree from Canada; I was a 49-year-old psychiatrist living in Washington. Beginning in early October of that year, we talked or e-mailed several times a week. This arrangement was novel to both of us, so our conversations were tentative at first, but we soon grew more comfortable, and excitement over our shared vision blossomed. After a few weeks, we decided to meet for a uniquely intimate encounter. After New Year’s, the Canadian would fly to Washington to meet me — at a hospital, where he would give me one of his kidneys. Thank God.

My own kidneys were failing. On a steamy day in August 2004, I went to the doctor for a routine checkup. I was feeling fine, but a basic test revealed that my kidneys were shot, functioning at about 16 percent of normal capacity. One nephrologist I went to predicted that within roughly six months to a year I would need to begin dialysis. Three days a week, for four debilitating hours at a time, I would be tethered to a blood-cleansing machine. Even simple things like traveling to see friends or to give talks would be limited. This would very likely continue for at least five years until my name crawled to the top of the national list of people waiting for kidneys from the newly deceased. On average, 12 names, the death toll from the ever-growing organ shortage, would be scratched off the list each day.

A much better option would be to get a transplant from a living person. I had tried that and failed. Thus my plans for a rendezvous with a man I had never met. But shortly before Thanksgiving, he disappeared. I panicked. Everything turned to radio silence as my e-mail and phone messages went unanswered. Was I, a psychiatrist no less, crazy to have put my trust in a stranger who goes on the Internet to relinquish an organ?

Friends wanted to know why my kidneys were giving out, but there was no good answer. I didn’t have diabetes or hypertension, the most common causes of end-stage renal disease. My doctor’s theory was that my kidney damage may have been caused by a medication I had taken during my 20s. The one thing we knew was that whatever was destroying my kidneys did so stealthily. Like most organs, kidneys have impressive reserves, and the slower they deteriorate, the longer they can keep up a good front, maintaining blood pressure, balancing the salt and electrolytes in the blood and, of course, producing about one to two liters of urine a day. I remembered a line from “The Sun Also Rises,” when a drunkard is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” he answers. “Gradually and then suddenly.” That was how my kidneys went out of business too.

The obvious place to find a donor is your own family, but that was not really an option for me. My parents were not alive and would have been far too old to help me even if they were. I have no siblings and only three cousins; I hadn’t seen two of them since high school; and the third I see maybe once every two or three years. I couldn’t call out of the blue with this news. I could just imagine my relatives tsking into the phone, “You only call when you want something.” Indeed.

Theoretically, kidneys should be in booming supply. Virtually everyone has two, and healthy individuals can give one away and still lead perfectly normal lives. Yet people aren’t exactly lining up to give. At the beginning of 2005, when I put my name on the list, there were about 60,000 people ahead of me; by the end of that year, only 1 in 9 had received one from a relative, spouse or friend. Today, just under 74,000 people are waiting for kidneys.

I wanted my donor to be completely anonymous so I could avoid the treacherous intimacy of accepting an organ from someone I knew. I would have gladly paid someone to give me a kidney, but exchanging money for an organ is a felony in this country. Altruistic giving is the metaphorical bedrock of our transplant system. Organ donation, we are told, should be the ultimate gift: the “gift of life,” a sublime act of generosity. The giver — whether living or deceased — must not expect to be enriched in any way.

In late 2004, not long after I learned my kidneys were failing and a little over a year before I met the Canadian online, I told one of my best friends about my diagnosis. She and I first met more than 20 years before at the medical school at Yale, when I was finishing my residency in psychiatry and she was an instructor in the same department. Dr. Yale, as I’ll refer to her to protect her privacy, is a feisty blend of bubbly energy (last summer she made me ride the Cyclone with her at Coney Island) and intellectual seriousness (she is training to be a psychoanalyst). She immediately offered to check her blood type. I needed someone with type A or O, and in uncomplicated cases like mine, blood-type matching is usually one of the biggest hurdles to compatibility. Dr. Yale was type O. Presto!

She said she needed to talk it over with her husband but thought it would be fine. A week later, however, she said it wasn’t. “Giving you a kidney seemed a perfectly natural thing to do,” she told me. “I had the time, and I wanted to do what I could and in a clear way, far clearer than the vague helpfulness of say, psychiatry. But then I mentioned my plan to donate to a fellow alto at chorus rehearsal one evening.” As it turned out, the alto in question was no typical acquaintance: she was a transplant surgeon. My friend continued: “She was very surprised that I was planning to donate to a friend and then pulled an article out of her bag about hemorrhaging after donating.” The exchange set off a spiral of anxiety in Dr. Yale’s mind — What if my brother or kids need my kidney? What if I had complications from surgery? I’m sorry, she said matter-of-factly, and that was that.

I understood that my friend wanted to spend her kidney wisely. What mystifies me still is how she got so spooked. After all, Dr. Yale was a physician herself, capable of weighing the risks. The operation is done by laparoscope, leaving only a modest three-inch scar; she would have been out of the hospital after two or three nights. Most important, the chance of death is tiny — 2 in every 10,000 transplants — and the long-term health risks are generally negligible.

More baffling to me, though, was the fact that she was talked out of donating by a person who removes and implants organs for a living. I was outraged. A transplant surgeon, of all people, knows how hard it is to find a donor, how grueling dialysis can be and how significant the health benefits of a “pre-emptive” transplant (that is, one received before the patient goes on dialysis) are. Not to mention the fact that hemorrhaging after donation is unusual. How dare she discourage someone who was ready to donate! Or had my friend been ready? It doesn’t matter now. But at the time, the surgeon was such a ready scapegoat that I could push the uneasy question about Dr. Yale aside.

I fumed for a week and then got over it because I figured it was early and it wouldn’t be hard to find someone else. And sure enough, two more friends quickly stepped forward to have their blood typed. It turned out they were poor matches for me.

A week after my 49th birthday in January 2005, half a year after being given a diagnosis of renal failure, a friend and I were drinking coffee at a Starbucks when I wondered aloud if I would find a donor before I reached 50. I wasn’t hinting. I knew she would never offer because she was so squeamish about blood and pain. My friend, whom I met a decade before when we were both new to Washington and worked together on an advocacy project, was a little older than I; she was charming, stylish, smart — and a hypochondriac.

Nor, to be honest, did I want her kidney. Anyone as anxious about health as she was would surely view donation as a white-knuckle ordeal. And the bigger the sacrifice for her, the heavier the burden of reciprocity on me. The bigger the burden on me, the more I would resent her. Then I would feel guilty over resenting her and, in turn, resent the guilt. Who could survive inside this echo chamber of reverberating emotions? Thank goodness my friend would be holding on to her kidney.

But then to my amazement, within a minute or so of my speculating when or if a donor would ever appear, she offered to do it. Later that night we talked on the phone and she rhapsodized about what a “mitzvah” it would be. Yes, her sentiments were lovely, but I felt secretly annoyed because I knew it was her habit to embark upon grandiose plans; when they fizzled, she would just shrug. I told her that giving me a kidney was out of the question — “It would be too weird,” was what I kept saying — but she persisted. I couldn’t quite believe it when she told her family of her decision (they were graciously in favor) and then had blood tests and consulted with my transplant team.

Gradually, I began to believe that she meant it, and I decided to embrace her just as you might accept an in-law, as someone who could drive you a little mad but whom you loved because they were the source of something very precious to you — in my case, not a spouse but a kidney. But then after a few months she stopped talking about it. When I finally broke the silence, she said her doctor had advised against it. More likely, I thought, she was scared. I felt sorry to have put her in this position, but I was also bitter: just when would she have gotten around to telling me?

Such near-transplant experiences are not uncommon. All of the transplant candidates I spoke to, as part of my own small nonscientific sample, mentioned at least one person who promised to donate, had some tests done and then developed cold feet. Transplant teams explicitly, and properly, offer face-saving “medical alibis” to potential donors who don’t really want to go through with it, which suggests that bailing out isn’t all that rare. They might tell the person needing the transplant and the rest of the family, for example, that additional tests on the prospective donor revealed a compatibility problem or some evidence that the donor might be putting her own health at risk.

What’s next, I wondered? I couldn’t imagine asking friends or colleagues to donate; it was too momentous a request. Not because the risks are great, but because the idea scares the hell out of a lot of people. Also, the recent drama with my friend was a potent reminder of just how suffocating a lifelong obligation might be. Maybe when I began to feel really ill, I would force myself to ask. But not now.

The “tyranny of the gift” is an artful term coined by the medical sociologists Renée C. Fox and Judith P. Swazey to capture the way immense gratitude at receiving a kidney can morph into a sense of constricting obligation. In their 1992 book, “Spare Parts: Organ Replacement in American Society,” the authors write, “The giver, the receiver and their families may find themselves locked in a creditor-debtor vise that binds them one to another in a mutually fettering way.”

I had read of a brother who was so overwhelmed by feelings of obligation that he could “not even stand to look at” his donor sister. And I was also aware of the lengths people went to to avoid the vise: the son who refused a kidney from an overbearing mother, telling his surgeon, “She’s devoured enough of me already”; the young man who chose to remain on dialysis rather than accept a kidney from his long-term girlfriend lest he be forced to reciprocate by marrying her.

Maimonides, the 12th-century Jewish physician and philosopher, believed that anonymous giving was nobler than charity performed face to face because it protected the beneficiary from shame or a sense of indebtedness. He was onto something. I ruminated constantly about what it would mean to be related to someone “by organ.” Would my future donor assume a proprietary interest in how I lived my life, since she had made it possible? Would she make sure I was taking proper care of “our” kidney or lord her sacrifice over me? Or would I hold it over my own head, constantly questioning whether I might have said or done anything that could offend or disappoint my donor, anything that might be taken as ingratitude? How could a relationship breathe under such stifling conditions? It was exhausting to think about; I wanted no part of a debtor-creditor relationship. I didn’t want a gift, I wanted a kidney.

Naturally, I was preoccupied with the ways in which the gift might tyrannize me, but for every patient who wonders, “Do I want to accept?” there are many more prospective donors who ask, “Do I want to give?” News that a patient needs a transplant quickly leads to anxious glances among relatives, wondering who the future donor will be. “I and others had seen refusal of donation lead to ostracism within a family or donation made as a reluctant sacrifice to someone for whom there was little or no affection,” wrote Thomas E. Starzl, the pre-eminent transplant surgeon, in his memoirs. “If a prospective donor was deficient in some way, usually intellectually, the family power structure tended to focus on his or her presumed expendability.” This so troubled Starzl that he stopped performing live kidney transplants in 1972.

Donors can have their own agendas, too. The academic literature on donor psychology offers many examples, like a man who sought the adulation of his community by offering a kidney to his minister, a daughter who competed with her own mother to be the rescuer of another family member and a woman who told researchers that her motive for wanting to give a kidney to a stranger was to become “‘Daddy’s good girl.” Then there is the “black-sheep donor,” a wayward relative who shows up to offer an organ as an act of redemption, hoping to reposition himself in the family’s good graces. For others, donation is a sullen fulfillment of familial duty, a way to avoid the shame and guilt of allowing a relative to suffer needlessly and even die.

By comparison, friends are better insulated from emotional pressures; their compassion is less likely to be tinged with obligation, let alone tainted by it. And the rare Good Samaritan donor who cold-calls a transplant center to donate to the next suitable person in the queue, not even knowing who will get his kidney, surely embodies the purest form of altruism. In the end, though, people who don’t want to donate usually manage to extract themselves. They miss appointments for screening tests or just drop out of the process.

People who actually do become donors, however, usually regard it as a supremely gratifying experience: they were given a blessed opportunity to save a life, a chance that relatives of a dying cancer patient can only dream of. I’ve read of siblings jousting to give an organ to a cherished parent and of adult children who were heartbroken when doctors ruled them out on medical grounds. According to a review of published surveys on donor attitudes by Mary Amanda Dew, a psychologist as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, about 95 percent of donors say they would do it again. Most experience a boost in self-worth and enjoy feelings of deep purpose, while only a small minority regret having donated or report that their relationships with recipients changed for the worse.

From my medical training, I was familiar with some of the ins and outs of end-stage renal disease. I had an especially morbid dread of dialysis. The playwright Neil Simon received a kidney from his longtime publicist in 2004 — “The Odd Donor Couple,” as The New York Times put it — but before that he endured 18 wretched months on dialysis, suffering cramps and vomiting spells that kept him largely confined to his house. His memory deteriorated, and he hated the time away from his writing. Shortly before his donor came forward (unsolicited, it should be noted), Simon’s doctors said he might have to start spending more time on dialysis. If that were necessary, he said, he had decided, “I didn’t want to live my life anymore.” Neither, I thought, would I.

It is possible that I was overestimating how miserable I would be on dialysis. An avalanche of psychological data shows that people are far better at handling adversity when it actually befalls them than they expect they will be. Still, I was quite sure I would flout the longstanding evidence attesting to human adaptability. On dialysis I would be disconsolate and maybe even suicidal if the wait for an organ were to stretch for years. As dispiriting, I would lose all my friends. Not that I expected them to abandon me. I would abandon them out of anger for not rescuing me.

By the end of the summer of 2005, a year after the diagnosis, there was no donor in sight. I was mentally preparing myself to undergo the standard predialysis operation to create “access” to the machine. A vein and artery in my arm would be joined to create a large superficial vessel for the insertion of needles and tubing that would carry my blood to and from the machine. I resisted, but I knew that soon I wouldn’t be able to put off dialysis any longer.

The “tyranny of the gift” now took on a new meaning for me. It was no longer about moral debt; it was about the very fact that an organ had to be a gift, about the tyranny of the system. I heard of people trying to persuade strangers to give them organs. They put up bulletin boards or started Web sites (GordyNeedsAKidney.org, whose opening page carried the plaintive headline, “Please Help Our Dad”). I flirted with the idea of becoming a “transplant tourist” in Turkey or the Philippines, where I could buy a kidney. Or going to China, where I would have to face the frightful knowledge that my kidney would probably come from an executed prisoner. Grim choices, but I was afraid I could die on dialysis if I didn’t do something to save myself.

In October 2005, I stumbled across a Web site called MatchingDonors.com that helps link potential donors and recipients. Once a match is made, the process follows the standard path, with physicians at a transplant center determining whether to proceed. I was given space to describe myself and to post photos. I read a few of the requests. There were parents wanting to see their young children grow up; a new husband hoping to have children with his wife before her kidneys failed; a 70-year-old grandmother yearning to see her only granddaughter get married.

My God, how could I possibly compete with these people? I wouldn’t leave children motherless or miss the milestones of life; were I a prospective donor, even I wouldn’t have picked me. I took a minimalist approach to my statement, hoping it would attract a no-nonsense donor who appreciated reserve. I wanted to stand out as the “applicant” who wasn’t begging; no emotional blackmail here. Of course, I would have poured out every detail of my moribund state most operatically if I were living on dialysis or near death. I thought of boosting my stock by mentioning that I was a psychiatrist at a methadone clinic, but the prospect of heroin addicts bereft of their shrink might not conjure a poignant Hippocratic tableau. In the end, I simply wrote: “Type A blood. 49 yr old female physician . . . idiopathic kidney failure. Otherwise healthy. Aug 2004 discovered chronic renal failure during routine blood test. BUN 80, Cr 7. Not yet on dialysis. Doctor predicts organ would be needed by Jan. 06.”

Three days later, the Canadian called. He told me he considered becoming a donor five years ago when he heard through his church about someone who was failing on dialysis. That was the most personal thing I ever learned about him. Well into November, we were in regular contact, yet our phone calls rarely lasted more than 10 minutes. He asked about my health, and we would talk about logistics — whether my insurance would pay for his tests, whether he could take time away from a project he was working on and so on. I ended the calls blubbering with gratitude, and he would tell me to stop.

Although the Canadian seemed kind and steady, he had enormous power over me. I deliberately kept our calls brief to minimize my chances of saying something that might antagonize him. I wondered why he chose me, but I dared not ask, lest his decision was based on a misconception of who I was. Would I then be morally bound to set him straight so that he wasn’t giving a body part under false pretenses? What if he loathed conservatives? After all, he was involved in politics, and I was associated with a right-of-center think tank.

This is ridiculous, I told myself; a person whose inspiration to donate is forged in church is surely above partisanship in such matters. Still, until both of us were snug in our adjoining operating rooms, I could never relax — everything was tentative, conditional and prone to collapse. I prayed the Canadian wouldn’t talk about his decision to donate (and the identity of his recipient) with his family or friends. They could look me up online and not like what they saw or think I wasn’t sick enough to warrant heroics on his part or turn him against the idea of donating altogether.

Yet from what I could tell, the Canadian’s only agenda was the act itself. Had I detected any hint of ambivalence, I would have cut him loose immediately, since each false hope ate up irreplaceable time. But, it turned out, I misread him. About a week before Thanksgiving, the Canadian went dark. By then I was fatigued most of the time and fluid was pooling in my ankles. I took four antihypertensive drugs a day and had injections of a hormone that stimulated my body to make more red blood cells. Dialysis was closing in.

Around Christmas, the Canadian finally called. The conversation went as if nothing had happened. I didn’t dare ask about his silence; instead, I forced myself to sound upbeat and touched on the few things I knew about his life: that he was volunteering on a political campaign and that his father had been ill. He swore he was still “raring to go with the transplant,” which my transplant coordinator, a young woman named Julie, had tentatively scheduled for January. I wanted to press him for a firmer promise, but I worried that if I betrayed my irritation, he might be offended: “That’s it!” I imagined him saying, just before he slammed down the phone like a twisted character in a “Seinfeld” episode. “No kidney for you!”

A few days later, Julie contacted him. Straight-talking and bright-eyed, Julie spoke to the Canadian in a way I could not. “We need to know how to proceed,” she told him firmly. “There is no time to spare. Can you be here in January for the surgery?” He conceded that the campaign he was working on was too unpredictable. Julie said he seemed to feel genuinely bad about reneging, but he did not tell her to convey that disappointment to me, and I never heard from him again.

I was astonished at the Canadian’s . . . what? Negligence, cowardice, rudeness? It was a sickening roller-coaster ride: hope yielding to helpless frustration, gratitude giving way to fury. How dare he reduce me to groveling and dependence? Yet I assume he intended no such thing. I think the Canadian was actually quite devoted to the idea of giving a kidney — just not necessarily now or to me. Then, again, it occurred to me that one of the most brilliantly cruel games a sadist could devise would be to promise an organ with the plan of later snatching it away.

The Canadian knew that I was relying on him, that I suspended my donor search when we settled on a date for the transplant. At the very least, he owed me an apology — not so much for backing out, although by now I was frantic over that, but because he led me on for weeks. And would have continued doing so had Julie not pushed him. The truth, naturally, was that I had no right to anything of his, let alone something so absolutely and intimately his as a kidney. Who could dare to presume — or even appear to presume — that his kidney was meant for me? I was thoroughly confused about how entitled I was to hate him. Meanwhile, my kidneys were deteriorating, and I didn’t have time for more cycles of commitment, silence and rejection.

Salvation came out of nowhere. In early November 2005, a few weeks before the Canadian withdrew, I received an e-mail message from a friend — a fond acquaintance really — whom I knew from the think-tank circuit. “Serious offer” was the message in the subject line. It was from Virginia Postrel, a 45-year-old author and journalist. (She has written for the business pages of The Times and for this magazine.) Known for her original mind, she is especially popular within libertarian intellectual circles. Virginia ran into a mutual friend at a meeting, who told her about me, and she sent an e-mail message within days: “If I’m compatible, I’ll be a donor. Best, Virginia” Two weeks later, she sent this: “By the way, I absolutely promise you that I will not back out.” Intuitively, she had grasped the golden rule of responsible donorship.

Mercifully, Virginia was the right blood type; even better, she was the right personality type. In early March, four days before our operations, she came to D.C. from her home in Dallas. On March 4, 2006, I became the proud owner of Virginia’s right kidney. She was out of the hospital after three nights; I was home after seven; our recoveries were uneventful. I require no drugs except medication that prevents my body from rejecting the new organ.

Though Virginia never before gave blood or even signed an organ donor card, the decision to donate, she told me, was quick and sure: “I felt intense empathy and imagined how desperate you must feel,” she said.“I liked the idea of being able to help in a straightforward way — to be able to cure a sick friend rather than just bring food or send a card.

Virginia was the perfect donor for me. For one thing, she lives far away. She also has an ingrained respect for personal privacy. She never suggested that I might owe her a thing beyond the extraordinary gratitude that decency demands. And she is bracingly pragmatic. “I have a very instrumental view of my body,” she told me, “so when you needed a part, I was happy to give it. I knew you had no family. I wouldn’t have done this for a stranger, but I would do it, I did do it, for someone I cared about even though we weren’t close.”

My story, it turns out, is a triumph of altruism. Looking back, I see that my anxiety over my future donor was a neurotic luxury. I worried about finding the ideal donor, but thousands of people have no donor at all — no relative who will do it out of love or obligation, no friend out of kindness, no stranger out of humane impulse. Alas, I have no kidney to give away. Instead, I am urging wherever I can — in articles, in lectures, from assorted rooftops — that society has a moral imperative to expand the idea of “the gift.”

Altruism is a beautiful virtue, but it has fallen painfully short of its goal. We must be bold and experiment with offering prospective donors other incentives for giving, not necessarily payment but material reward of some kind — perhaps something as simple as offering donors lifelong Medicare coverage. Or maybe Congress should grant waivers so that states can implement their own creative ways of giving something to donors: tax credits, tuition vouchers or a contribution to a giver’s retirement account.

In short, we should reward individuals who relinquish an organ to save a life because doing so would encourage others to do the same. Yes, splendid people like Virginia will always be moved to rescue in the face of suffering, and I did get my kidney. But unless we stop thinking of transplantable kidneys solely as gifts, we will never have enough of them.

Sally Satel is a psychiatrist and lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

samedi, décembre 15, 2007


"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
-Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910), better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was an American humanist, humorist, satirist, lecturer and writer.

vendredi, décembre 14, 2007

that's amore

It all began when we visited San Francisco. Zack, the adorable boyfriend of one of Leo's Boston buddies, turned on trash TV and left the "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila" marathon on.

Yes, it was trashy. Yes, it was MTV. Yes, it was "reality" tv. But we got sucked in anyway.

We've watched the episodes (online) since then and even sent Zack a thank-you note last month where we waxed on about our love of Domenico and Dani.
We know they both have no chance in hell of winning, but he's a good comic foil to all the testosterone freak boys and Dani's a boyish breath of fresh air compared to the surgically enhanced, vacuous bitches "in love" with Tila.

... and Domenico is just fabulous. They should do a reality show focused on him.
Several weeks later, it's down to two contestants and a finale next Tuesday. Also, rumors are surfacing that Tila's not really bi (or single, for that matter). And, yes, we still want Domenico and Dani to have their own tv show, with Dani's grandma, of course. (I just found out that Domenico is getting his own show, called "That's Amore.")

But if Tila breaks Dani's heart, I may just hate her forever. Meanwhile, I thought this piece, on Tila being a bi tv pioneer, was interesting:
AlterNet: Tila Tequila’s Bisexual Dating Show Is More Than Just Trashy Fun
By Nicole Kristal, American Sexuality Magazine. Posted December 13, 2007.
MTV's reality dating show A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila takes on some of society's worst stereotypes about gender and sexuality.

For those of you who haven't noticed, we bisexuals finally scored our own show -- A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. Unfortunately, it's a reality program made by a former producer of The Bachelor that places Tequila, an exotic Asian American femme with plenty of tattoos, cleavage, and low-cut halter tops, at the center of a battle between sixteen straight men (who have the maturity of frat boys on Jägermeister) and sixteen trashy lesbians (many of whom resemble strippers much like the woman they're pursuing). Despite the contestants, the show proves to be trashy fun that grows less superficial -- mostly due to the maturity of its star -- with each episode. A surprising feat considering that most of us, that is most of us over the age of twenty-one, didn't even have a clue who Tequila was until MTV aired this show.

Known for having two million MySpace friends, writing provocative songs like "Fuck Ya Man" and "Stripper Friends," and being a Maxim cover girl, Tequila (for obvious reasons) isn't the ideal bisexual poster child. During the first episode Tequila's slutty behavior and ignorant commentary made me want to hurl things at my television. Aside from her penchant for approaching the contestants in the house and randomly making out with them then walking away, Tequila also reinforces another major bisexual stereotype -- she keeps her sexuality a secret from her potential suitors. When they arrive at the house, Tequila hasn't told any of the men or women that she's bisexual, let alone that they will be competing with members of the opposite sex for her affections. Even worse, when she tells them her sexuality in a dramatic ending to the first episode, she says, "I'm a bisexual," not "I'm bisexual." That's like Ellen DeGeneres saying, "I'm a gay." Not exactly confidence inspiring. Neither is her admission that she's a complete horndog. Tequila confides to a male Italian contestant that she has to masturbate nine times a day in order to be satisfied. Not exactly helping our image there, either, lady!

Despite claiming that both men and women have broken her heart, Tequila's clearly a new bisexual, which makes her comments and influence somewhat dangerous to seasoned members of the bi community like me. In earlier episodes she has a proclivity for turning to the camera and saying unintentionally damaging things like, "This show's the perfect experience because it's really going to help me figure out -- do I really like a guy or do I really like a girl?" Umm, the point isn't to determine whether you're straight or gay. You're allegedly bisexual, you idiot!

The point of a bisexual dating show shouldn't be to prove that we all eventually develop a preference, abandon our fence-sitting ways, and settle into a heterosexual or homosexual lifestyle. And it definitely shouldn't be to center an entire show around a bi-curious straight girl who'd make out with a woman at a nightclub after a few cocktails for the pleasure of her boyfriend. And after watching the first few episodes of the show, I wasn't entirely sure Tequila wasn't that girl. When she screams things like, "I don't know about you guys but I love strip clubs. Are you ready to party?" I can't help but miss Ani DiFranco.

The competitions on the show are designed to highlight gender roles and thus help Tequila better decide whom to eliminate. In many cases she behaves like a straight man. In the first episode she makes the female contestants play dress up and walk a runway in maid, Catholic school girl, and dominatrix-style outfits so she can objectify them like a dude, then eliminate the least sexy ones. She eliminates the male virgin for inexperience in the first few episodes, but keeps the female virgin around, excited about exploiting her innocence. She doesn't hesitate to scream, "Look at that ass!" as both men and women slither around in a tub full of bath bubbles looking for chips that will grant them alone time with her. But as the season progresses Tequila also proves to be genuine and multi-faceted despite her superficial packaging and dirty talk.

After the first few episodes Tequila stops consoling the lesbians with comments like, "I'm just trying to figure it out right now," and starts saying intelligent things like, "It just depends on the person, it's not 'a guy' or 'a girl.'" She puts looks aside, opting to eliminate pretty boys in order to keep goofy guys with senses of humor around and drops most of the trashy, self-centered lesbians, one of whom physically attacks another contestant when she isn't chosen to stay in the house. But Tequila's openness and lack of superficiality truly shines when despite her claim that she only likes "lipstick lesbians," she falls for a warm-hearted soft butch who puts on no airs and refuses to dress in the skimpy outfits chosen by the producers. As the number of contestants is narrowed and Tequila truly begins to get to know the men and women, even traveling to meet their families, she encounters a very bisexual dilemma -- the former Playboy model starts to connect emotionally and fall in love with both the men and the women.

Getting to observe this on television is a first. I, too, have fallen simultaneously for a man and a woman, and if you're not bi, you'll never understand the unique challenge it poses. I've never had the opportunity before to watch a fellow bisexual woman struggle on national television with the disadvantages and advantages of dating both sexes, and for this reason alone, the show is truly groundbreaking. It also exposes the common prejudices and assumptions straight men and lesbians have about bisexual women.

Some of the guys on the show predictably say they want to be Tequila's primary relationship but admit they are open to threesomes. Other men express anxiety and insecurities about competing for a woman with other women. One lesbian is so repulsed after she learns Tequila is bi, she quits the show, while other lesbians try to undermine each other by telling Tequila they believe other female contestants are "confused" and not sure they're only into women. These are all realistic scenarios most bisexuals encounter while dating monosexuals, and I truly feel Tequila's frustrations as she tries to sort through the drama. But I don't have a lot of sympathy for her given the venue where she's chosen to come out. Perhaps the most frustrating element of the show is why a bisexual woman would close herself off from the possibility of dating another bisexual. It would seemingly solve a lot of problems but not Tequila's own insecurities. Early in the show she expresses her concern that the contestants will lose their focus on her and start hooking up with each other. The concern proves valid when a "lesbian" contestant fools around with a man and another woman, showing viewers much to my delight that even static sexuality can be fluid in the monosexual community, let alone when the cameras are rolling.

But after Tequila ultimately gets real and eliminates the contestants who cheat on her or who don't seem capable of a genuine connection, she impresses me again by realizing her original assumptions about bisexuality were wrong. She admits, "You know when I first started out it was more 'do I want to be with a girl' or 'do I want to be with a guy?' and that was it. But now that I'm involved, I have two girls left and one guy. They're people that I really love and in this case, love has no gender." Pretty evolved commentary for someone who hasn't even come out to her own parents.

Who will Tequila ultimately pick? Who cares? I, along with bisexuals everywhere who bothered to watch this far, are just breathing a collective sigh of relief that she actually goes both ways -- not just in her loins, but in her heart.

Nicole Kristal is the co-author of The Bisexual's Guide to the Universe: Quips, Tips, And Lists for Those Who Go Both Ways.

food for thought

I'll admit that I love to hate fast food joints. I avoid them for the same reason I do WAL-MART: giving money to the corporations behind them (instead of your local mom and pop businesses) means killing your local economy. As someone who tries to be a conscientious consumer, I can't support that.

I also avoid fast food because I prefer not to eat a heart attack on a plate (not to mention the fact that it takes 3 gallons of water to quench my thirst after the sodium overload most processed foods deliver).

But this article reminds me to remember the politics on my plate and to be cognizant of the healthiness (or lack thereof) of the food options at my local greasy spoon, as well.
Where's the Beef?: Thank McDonald's for keeping you thin.
Greg Beato | January 2008 Print Edition

Imagine if McDonald’s picked up your bill any time you managed to eat 10 Big Macs in an hour or less. What if Wendy’s replaced its wimpy Baconator with an unstoppable meat-based assassin that could truly make your aorta explode—say, 20 strips of bacon instead of six, enough cheese slices to roof a house, and instead of two measly half-pound patties that look as emaciated as the Olsen twins, five pounds of the finest ground beef, with five pounds of fries on the side? Morgan Spurlock’s liver would seek immediate long-term asylum at the nearest vegan co-op.

Alas, this spectacle will never come to pass. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and the rest of their fast food brethren are far too cowed by their critics to commit such crimes against gastronomy. But you can get a free dinner with as many calories as 10 Big Macs at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, if you can eat a 72-ounce sirloin steak, a baked potato, a salad, a dinner roll, and a shrimp cocktail in 60 minutes or less. And if you’re craving 10 pounds of junk food on a single plate, just go to Eagle’s Deli in Boston, Massachusetts, where the 10-storey Challenge Burger rises so high you practically need a ladder to eat it.

Fast food makes such a savory scapegoat for our perpetual girth control failures that it’s easy to forget we eat less than 20 percent of our meals at the Golden Arches and its ilk. It’s also easy to forget that before America fell in love with cheap, convenient, standardized junk food, it loved cheap, convenient, independently deep-fried junk food.

During the first decades of the 20th century, lunch wagons, the predecessors to diners, were so popular that cities often passed regulations limiting their hours of operation. In 1952, three years before Ray Kroc franchised his first McDonald’s, one out of four American adults was considered overweight; a New York Times editorial declared that obesity was “our nation’s primary health problem.” The idea that rootless corporate invaders derailed our healthy native diet may be chicken soup for the tubby trial lawyer’s soul, but in reality overeating fatty, salty, sugar-laden food is as American as apple pie.

Nowhere is this truth dramatized more deliciously than in basic-cable fare like the Food Channel’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and the Travel Channel’s World’s Best Places to Pig Out. Watch these shows often enough, and your Trinitron may develop Type 2 diabetes. Big Macs and BK Stackers wouldn’t even pass as hors d’oeuvres at these heart attack factories.

Yet unlike fast food chains, which are generally characterized as sterile hegemons that force-feed us like foie gras geese, these independently owned and operated greasy spoons are touted as the very (sclerosed) heart of whatever town they’re situated in, the key to the region’s unique flavor, and, ultimately, the essence of that great, multicultural melting pot that puts every homogenizing fast food fryolator to shame: America!

Instead of atomizing families and communities, dives and diners bring them together. Instead of tempting us with empty calories at cheap prices, they offer comfort food and honest value. Instead of destroying our health, they serve us greasy authenticity on platters the size of manhole covers.

As the patrons of these temples to cholesterol dig into sandwiches so big they could plug the Lincoln Tunnel, they always say the same thing. They’ve been coming to these places for years. They started out as kids accompanying their parents, and now they bring their kids with them.

While such scenes play out, you can’t help but wonder: Doesn’t that obesity lawsuit trailblazer John Banzhaf have cable? Shouldn’t he be ejaculating torts out of every orifice upon witnessing such candid testimonies to the addictive power of old-timey diner fare? And more important: Shouldn’t we thank our fast food chains for driving so many of these places out of business and thus limiting our exposure to chili burgers buried beneath landfills of onion rings? Were it not for the relative restraint of Big Macs and Quarter Pounders, the jiggling behemoths who bruise the scales on The Biggest Loser each week might instead be our best candidates for America’s Next Top Model.

Three years ago, when Supersize Me appeared in theaters and fast food replaced Osama bin Laden as the greatest threat to the American way of life, the industry sought refuge in fruit and yogurt cups and the bland, sensible countenance of Jared the Subway Guy. Today chains are still trying to sell the idea that they offer healthy choices to their customers; see, for example, Burger King’s plans to sell apple sticks dolled up in French fry drag. But they’re starting to reclaim their boldness too, provoking the wrath of would-be reformers once again.

Last summer, when McDonald’s started selling supersized sodas under a wonderfully evocative pseudonym, the Hugo, it earned a prompt tsk-tsking from The New York Times. When Hardee’s unveiled its latest affront to sensible eating, a 920-calorie breakfast burrito, the senior nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest derided it as “another lousy invention by a fast-food company.” When San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford saw a TV commercial for Wendy’s Baconator, he fulminated like a calorically correct Jerry Falwell: “Have the noxious fast-food titans not yet been forced to stop concocting vile products like this, or at least to dial down the garish marketing of their most ultra-toxic products, given how the vast majority of Americans have now learned (haven’t they?) at least a tiny modicum about human health?”

Culinary reformers around the country have been trying to turn such microwaved rhetoric into reality. In New York City, health officials have been attempting to introduce a regulation that will require any restaurant that voluntarily publicizes nutritional information about its fare to post calorie counts on its menus and menu boards. Because most single-unit operations don’t provide such information in any form, this requirement will apply mainly to fast food outlets and other chains. When a federal judge ruled against the city’s original ordinance, city health officials went back for seconds, revising the proposal to comply with his ruling. If this revised proposal goes into effect, any chain that operates 15 or more restaurants under the same name nationally will have to post nutritional information on the menus and menu boards of the outlets it operates in New York City.

In Los Angeles, City Councilmember Jan Perry has been trying to get her colleagues to support an ordinance that would impose a moratorium on fast food chains in South L.A., where 28 percent of the 700,000 residents live in poverty and 45 percent of the 900 or so restaurants serve fast food. “The people don’t want them, but when they don’t have any other options, they may gravitate to what’s there,” Perry told the Los Angeles Times, gravitating toward juicy, flame-broiled delusion. Apparently her constituents are choking down Big Macs only because they’ve already eaten all the neighborhood cats and figure that lunch at McDonald’s might be slightly less painful than starving to death. And how exactly will banning fast food outlets encourage Wolfgang Puck and Whole Foods Markets to set up shop in a part of town they’ve previously avoided? Is the threat of going head to head with Chicken McNuggets that much of a disincentive?

Suppose reformers like Perry get their wish and fast food chains are regulated out of existence. Would the diners and dives we celebrate on basic cable start serving five-pound veggie burgers with five pounds of kale on the side? Only diet hucksters and true chowhounds would benefit from a world where the local McDonald’s gave way to places serving 72-ounce steaks and burgers that reach toward the heavens like Manhattan skyscrapers. The rest of us would be left longing for that bygone era when, on every block, you could pick up something relatively light and healthy, like a Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger from Carl’s Jr.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato is a writer in San Francisco.
Via Leo

man-ning up

Leave it to the Onion to provide some post-finals laughs. (Leo found this funnier than I did, but it might have been the fact that I was still on the crashing side of the post-exam adrenaline rush/panic that came from two in-class exams yesterday.)
Man Finally Put In Charge Of Struggling Feminist Movement | The Onion
December 3, 2007 | Issue 43•49
WASHINGTON—After decades spent battling gender discrimination and inequality in the workplace, the feminist movement underwent a high-level shake-up last month, when 53-year-old management consultant Peter "Buck" McGowan took over as new chief of the worldwide initiative for women's rights.

McGowan, who now oversees the group's day-to-day operations, said he "couldn't be happier" to bring his ambition, experience, and no-nonsense attitude to his new role as the nation's top feminist.

"All the feminist movement needed to do was bring on someone who had the balls to do something about this glass ceiling business," said McGowan, who quickly closed the 23.5 percent gender wage gap by "making a few calls to the big boys upstairs." "In the world of gender identity and empowered female sexuality, it's all about who you know."

McGowan, who was selected from a pool of roughly 150 million candidates, made eliminating sexual harassment his first priority before working on securing reproductive rights for women in all 50 states, and promoting healthy body images through an influx of strong, independent female characters in TV, magazines, and film.

"It's about time," McGowan said upon returning from a golf game with several "network honchos" in which he brokered a deal to bring a variety of women's sports to prime-time television. "These ladies should have brought me on years ago."

McGowan claimed that one of the main reasons the movement enjoyed so little success in the past was that the previous management was often too timid and passive and should have been much more results-focused.

"You can't waste time pussyfooting around with protests and getting all emotional about a bunch of irrelevant details," McGowan said. "If you want to enjoy equal rights, you have to have a real man-to-man chat with the people in charge until you can hammer out some more equitable custody laws."

"And don't get me started on how disorganized and scatterbrained their old fundraising methods were," McGowan added. "Let's just say the movement never really had a head for numbers."

After McGowan successfully appointed three of his best men to lead Smith College's women's studies department and called in some favors to a number of powerful board chairmen to triple the number of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, analysts predicted that the feminist movement could achieve all of McGowan's goals by as early as 2009.

"With a charismatic, self-assured guy like Pete pulling the strings, we might even see a female elected president one of these days," said Nathan Roth, an analyst at the Cato Institute. "Finally, the feminist movement has a face that commands respect."

McGowan, however, said he didn't get into the business of women's rights for the praise.

"What these women were able to accomplish with the little manpower they had is very impressive," McGowan said. "I just bring a certain something to the table—I'm not sure what—that gave us that extra little push into complete female independence. I guess it just comes naturally."

But despite his modesty, McGowan continues to garner praise from those closest to the cause.

"The whole movement just seems more legitimate with Buck in charge," leading feminist Gloria Steinem said at a gala dinner Friday. "His drive, focus, and determination are truly remarkable. Mr. McGowan is a man with a plan."

Although he has not hinted at any future projects after all forms of gender discrimination are a thing of the past, McGowan has vehemently denied rumors that he will leave the feminist movement to head up the struggle for gay rights.

"The wife would kill me if I took on any more hours," McGowan said. "I'm sure those fellows know how that goes."