vendredi, février 29, 2008

french toast 101

My friend Kara posted this on her blog recently. I love her quick wit and composure in these types of situations.
So You Think You Know French Toast Sticks?
I work for a company that sells hamburgers. Granted, I work in the training and development department at the corporate headquarters, but even so part of my onboarding process is to work three days in one of our restaurants. That's a pretty cool idea, except when it's not.

Today was my third of three days, and since I spent 6 years working in Food Service at Six Flags Great Adventure, the manager let me run the front area while she did orders in the back office. At lunch time this conversation went down:

Drive-Thru Guy: Kara, the guest wants to speak to you.
Me: Okay. Hi ma'am, how may I help you?
Psycho Lady (driving a BMW SUV): Your employee is treating me very rudely and not giving me what I want. I'm the customer and customers are always right.

Me: I'm sorry for that. What can I do to make this right? How can I help you?
PLDBMWSUV: I want a bag of French Toast sticks with my order.
Me to Drive-Thru Guy: Let's get these for her...
PLDBMWSUV: Don't talk to him! You're only to talk to me right now! Erase him from the conversation!
Me: Ma'am, I'm trying to help you here. I want you to be happy. So you would like another order of French Toast sticks.
PLDBMWSUV: No, I want a bag of them!
Me: Okay. I can sell you an order of them.
PLDBMWSUV: Could you be any ruder to me? I said I want a bag of them, so you should give me a bag of them!

And this is where it gets golden:

PLDBMWSUV: Are you educated enough to understand what F-R-E-N-C-H TOAST STICKS are?
Me: I have a masters degree, so I'm pretty sure I understand what French Toast sticks are.

Am I educated enough to discuss in intricacies of lightly sugared crispy pieces of battered bread? Seriously?

I finally asked her if she wanted two or four sticks, to which she replied, "Two." We made them for her, and when we walked outside to give them to her she'd vanished.

After 32 years on this Earth, many of which contained some time in some type of customer-oriented positions (Bath & Body Works, bartending at a pub in England, Six Flags, etc.), I now have an addendum to "The Customer is Always Right:"

Yes, the customer is always right; but being right does NOT give you the right to be a bully or belligerent to employees.

"Educated enough!" To understand effing French Toast sticks! Dear God...

mercredi, février 27, 2008


How I get things done:
"Write Shit Down'. A popular method of organization. Works equally well in one's personal or professional life.

Dude, you don't need ritalin. Just use the WSD method - trust me, you won't forget things anymore and you'll actually get them done!"
Via Urban Dictionary

mardi, février 26, 2008

one world, different networks

The Who's Who of Social Networks Around the Globe Compiler from
The French newspaper Le Monde has posted an interesting look at social network usage around the world. As you can see from the graphic above (click the image above for a larger version) MySpace dominates the U.S. and Australia, while Facebook holds the lead in Great Britain and Canada. And contrary to what you might think, Google's Orkut isn't as also-ran as some like to paint it — the site is popular in both Brazil and India.
Also worth noting is that, while interest in sites like LiveJournal and Friendster have waned in the U.S., both have found strong followings overseas — Russia and South Asia respectively.
French users remain obsessed with Skyblog, a social network and blogging platform that has long dominated the online space in France.
Via Neatorama, image from Le Monde

corporate myopia + employee naiveté = ?

Note to self:
  1. Double-check employee handbook for anything related to writing, media outlets, and/or blogging at new gig.
  2. Ask new boss about company policy regarding blogging. (Get answers in writing.)
  3. Realize that doing all of the above may or may not matter if company policy changes in the future.
Deus Ex Malcontent: Say What You Will (Requiem for a TV News Career)
Maybe this was always the way it had to be.
When I was 19, I broke into the offices of WVUM -- the radio station at the University of Miami -- live, during an installment of my weekly radio show. I raided a file cabinet and my crew and I proceeded to read the minutes of that week's executive board meeting on the air, paying special attention to a recurring topic of conversation among my apparently exasperated supervisors -- a series of incidents which, collectively, were referred to as "The Chez Situation."

The board as a whole was less-than-pleased with, for example, my insistence on jokingly pointing out to my audience the fact that WVUM's faculty adviser seemed to be waging and winning a valiant war against sobriety, and as such deserved congratulations all-around. There was also my insinuation that one of the station's sponsors, a club which had just opened on South Beach, would likely be closed in two weeks then renamed and reopened two weeks later. (In fact, it took about a month to close.)

I regularly ignored the program director's God-awful musical "suggestions," choosing instead to play whatever I felt like hearing.

I ridiculed the University's decision to replace the garbage cans on campus with new, attractive, and extraordinarily expensive stone receptacles immediately after making an announcement that tuition for the coming year would be skyrocketing.

I poked fun at the frat boys.

I advocated mischievous insurrection.

I occasionally threw out a few low-level swear words on-air.

I was kind of a punk kid, and I admit it.

Yet, despite the all of this, I remained on the air simply because even though my superiors may have been irritated by the fallout from my juvenile antics, they usually found the antics themselves eminently entertaining. I was good at what I did; I had a voice and I wasn't the least bit afraid to use it, consequences be damned -- or not considered at all. Being exactly who I was, for whatever reason, seemed to be more important to me than any other consideration.

When I got into television, I did my best to bury my inner-revolutionary. For 16 years I've been a successful producer and manager of TV news, cranking out creative, occasionally daring content on good days and solid, no-frills material on the days in between. I've won several awards and for the most part can say that I'm proud of what I've done in the business, particularly since I never intended to get into it in the first place; by the time college was over, I was playing steadily in a band and fully believed sleeping on floors and subsisting on beer and Taco Bell to be an entirely noble endeavor. I wound up working at WSVN in Miami only after the band imploded, taking my dreams of rock n' roll glory with it. Since those earliest days, I've come to understand that the libertine, pirate ship mentality I found so seductive during my time in a rock band is pretty much a staple of most newsrooms, particularly at the local level. What's more, it's accompanied by a slightly better paycheck (although often only slightly).

Over the past several years though, something has changed. Drastically. And I'm not sure whether it's me, or television news, or both.

With the exception of the period immediately following 9/11, which saw the best characteristics of television journalism shocked back into focus and the passion of even the most jaded and cynical of its practitioners return like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, the profession I once loved and felt honored to be a part of has lost its way.

I say this with the knowledge of implied complicity: I continued to draw a salary from stations at the local level and national networks long after I had noticed an unsettling trend in which real news was being regularly abandoned in favor of, well, crap. I may not have drank the Kool-aid, but I did take the money. I may have been uncomfortable with a lot of what I was putting on the air, but I was comfortable in the life that it provided me. I just figured, screw it, most people don't like their jobs; shut up and do what you're told, or at least try to. Besides, I told myself, what the hell else do you know how to do?

That attitude began to change in April of 2006 -- when I found out that I had a tumor the size of a pinball inside my head.

I was working for CNN at the time, a job I had been proud to accept three years earlier as CNN was in my mind the gold-standard of television journalism. I readily admit that it was Time-Warner's medical plan that provided me the best care possible for the removal of the tumor and during my subsequent recovery, but following my operation, what had been clawing at my insides for years finally began to come to the surface. TV news wasn't the least bit fulfilling anymore, and I either needed to get out of it once and for all or find an outlet for my nascent iconoclastic tendencies.

So I started a blog.

I did it mostly to pass the time, hone my writing skills, resurrect my voice a little, and keep my mind sharp following the surgery. As is the case with many online journals, not a soul other than myself and a few close friends and family were even aware of what I was doing, much less read my stuff regularly. I thought nothing of returning to work at the end of my medical leave while continuing to write online. Really, who the hell knew who I was? Who cared what I had to say?

As it would turn out, over time, more than a few people.

My admittedly worthless opinions on pop culture, politics, the media and my personal past were quickly linked by sites like Fark, Gawker and Pajiba and I found my readership growing exponentially. During this time, I still didn't consider telling my superiors at CNN what I was doing on the side, simply because, having never been provided with an employee handbook, I hadn't seen a pertinent rule and never signed any agreement stipulating that I wouldn't write on my own time. I hadn't divulged my place of work and wasn't writing about what went on at the office. The views expressed on my blog, Deus Ex Malcontent, were mine and mine alone. I represented no one but myself, and I didn't make a dime doing it.

For 20 months after starting DXM, I continued to work as a producer on American Morning, one of many charged with putting together the show. During that time, I received consistently favorable reviews (while in Atlanta I was told that I was well on my way to becoming an executive producer) and, more importantly, neither my credibility nor objectivity was ever called into question. Like anyone who considers him or herself a respectable news professional, whatever my personal opinions were, they were checked at the door when I walked into work. Having grown up in a household in which the highest ideals of journalism were never more than a conversation away -- my father was an old-school investigative reporter -- I knew full well that you couldn't avoid having opinions and viewpoints, but you never let them get in the way of your journalistic responsibility

As far as CNN knew, I was a valued employee, albeit one with almost no say in the day-to-day editorial decisions on American Morning. This held true even as I began contributing columns to the Huffington Post, giving my writing more exposure than ever before.

Then, last Monday afternoon, I got a call from my boss, Ed Litvak.

Ed, seeming to channel Bill Lumburgh from Office Space, informed me of that which I was already very well aware: that my name was "attached to some, uh, 'opinionated' blog posts" circulating around the internet. I casually admitted as much and was then informed of something I didn't know: that I could be fired outright for this offense. 24 hours later, I was. During my final conversation with Ed Litvak and a representative from HR, they hammered home a single line in the CNN employee handbook which states that any writing done for a "non-CNN outlet" must be run through the network's standards and practices department. They asked if I had seen this decree. As a matter of fact I had, but only about a month previously, when I stumbled across a copy of that handbook on someone's desk and thumbed through it. I let them know exactly what I had thought when I read the rule, namely that it was staggeringly vague and couldn't possibly apply to something as innocuous as a blog. (I didn't realize until later that CNN had canned a 29-year-old intern for having the temerity to write about her work experiences -- her positive work experiences -- in a password-protected online journal a year earlier.) I told both my boss and HR representative that a network which prides itself on being so internet savvy -- or promotes itself as such, ad nauseam -- should probably specify blogging and online networking restrictions in its handbook. I said that they can't possibly expect CNN employees, en masse, to not engage in something as popular and timely as blogging if they don't make themselves perfectly clear.

My HR rep's response: "Well, as far as we know, you're the only CNN employee who's blogging under his own name."

It took self-control I didn't know I had to keep from laughing, considering that I could name five people off the top of my head who blogged without hiding their identities.

Uh-huh, as far as you know.

When I asked, just out of curiosity, who came across my blog and/or the columns in the Huffington Post, the woman from HR answered, "We have people within the company whose job is specifically to research this kind of thing in regard to employees."

Jesus, we have a Gestapo?

A few minutes later, I was off the phone and out of a job. No severance. No warning (which would've been a much smarter proposition for CNN as it would've put the ball effectively in my court and forced me to decide between my job or the blog). No nothing. Just, go away.

Right before I hung up, I asked for the "official grounds" for my dismissal, figuring the information might be important later. At first they repeated the line about not writing anything outside of CNN without permission, but HR then made a surprising comment: "It's also, you know, the nature of what you've been writing."

And right there I knew that CNN's concern wasn't so much that I had been writing as what I'd been writing. Whether a respected and loyal CNN producer of four years, like myself, could've gotten off with a warning had I chosen to write about, say, my favorite pasta sauce recipes, who knows. I'm dead sure though that my superiors never concerned themselves with my ability or inability to remain objective at work, given my strong opinions; they worried only about an appearance of bias (specifically, a liberal bias), and apparently they worried about it more than any potential fallout from firing a popular blogger with an audience that was already large and was sure to grow much larger when news of his firing put him in the national spotlight.

It's probably right about now that I should make something perfectly clear: I'm not naive -- I always understood that CNN, like any big company, might be apt to fire whoever it damn well pleases so long as the law remains intact at the end of the day.

Should they have fired me though?

Probably not, and only arrogant myopia would make them think otherwise.

As soon as the official word came down, I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine named Jacki Schechner. CNN junkies will recognize her as a former internet reporter for the network, one who pulled double-duty on American Morning and The Situation Room -- that is until the day she was taken out into the figurative woods without any warning and given the Old Yeller treatment. CNN's willingness to fire someone like Jacki tells you everything you need to know about how backward the network's thinking is when it comes to new media. It pays more lip-service to bloggers and their internet realm than any other mainstream media outlet, but in the end that's really all it is -- lip-service. Jacki was not only popular in internet circles, she had forged personal relationships with most of the big names in the blogosphere and knew her stuff inside and out. Inevitably though, CNN -- particularly American Morning -- chose to wear down and ultimately piss away this asset in favor of an on-air acquisition that fell right in line with the tried-and-true "TV" sententia: Veronica De La Cruz. The network never considered for a minute that new media might behave differently than television -- that the regular rules might not apply.

And that's the problem.

As far as CNN (and to be fair, the mainstream TV press in general) believes, it still sits comfortably at the top of the food chain, unthreatened by any possibility of a major paradigm shift being brought to bear by a horde of little people with laptops and opinions. Although the big networks recognize the need to appeal to bloggers, they don't fear them -- and that means that they don't respect them. Corporate-think dictates that the mainstream television press as a monstrous multi-headed hydra is the ultimate news authority and therefore is in possession of the one and only hotline to the ghosts of Murrow and Sevareid. Sure those bloggers are entertaining, but in the end they're really just insects who either feed off the carcasses of news items vetted through various networks or, when they do break stories, want nothing more than to see themselves granted an audience by the kingmakers on television.

This, of course, is horseshit.

During my last couple of years as a television news producer, I watched the networks try to recover from a six year failure to bring truth to power (the political party in power being irrelevant incidentally; the job of the press is to maintain an adversarial relationship with the government at all times) and what's worse, to pretend that they had a backbone all along. I watched my bosses literally stand in the middle of the newsroom and ask, "What can we do to not lead with Iraq?" -- the reason being that Iraq, although an important story, wasn't always a surefire ratings draw. I was asked to complete self-evaluations which pressed me to describe the ways in which I'd "increased shareholder value." (For the record, if you're a rank-and-file member of a newsroom, you should never under any circumstances even hear the word "shareholders," let alone be reminded that you're beholden to them.) I watched the media in general do anything within reason to scare the hell out of the American public -- to convince people that they were about to be infected by the bird flu, poisoned by the food supply, or eaten by sharks. I marveled at our elevation of the death of Anna Nicole Smith to near-mythic status and our willingness to let the airwaves be taken hostage by every permutation of opportunistic degenerate from a crying judge to a Hollywood hanger-on with an emo haircut. I watched qualified, passionate people worked nearly to death while mindless talking heads were coddled. I listened to Lou Dobbs play the loud-mouthed fascist demagogue, Nancy Grace fake ratings-baiting indignation, and Glenn Beck essentially do nightly stand-up -- and that's not even taking into account the 24/7 Vaudeville act over at Fox News. I watched The Daily Show laugh not at our mistakes but at our intentional absurdity.

I mentioned calling Jacki Schechner -- so what did she tell me?

"Think about how frustrated and disillusioned most of the American Morning staff is."

Not simply frustrated and disillusioned, but outright miserable.

And then she reminded me that in the past year-and-a-half, nearly 20 mid to high-level people have left American Morning; many of them quit with no other job to go to -- they just wanted out of the business. That speaks goddamned volumes, not simply about the show but about the state of the entire profession.

CNN fired me, and did it without even a thought to the power that I might wield as an average person with a brain, a computer, and an audience. The mainstream media doesn't believe that new media can embarrass them, hurt them or generally hold them accountable in any way, and they've never been more wrong.

I'm suddenly in a position to do all three, and I know now that this is what I've been working toward the last few years of my career.

Awhile back I was watching a great documentary on the birth of the punk scene, it closed with former Black Flag frontman and current TV host Henry Rollins saying these words: "All it takes is one person to stand up and say 'fuck this.'"

I truly hope so, because I'm finally doing just that.

And I should've done it a long time ago.

lundi, février 25, 2008

have passport, will travel

I gave my boss three week's notice last Tuesday. My last day with my current company is March 11.

After that, I have a speaking gig and want to get outta dodge for a bit.

Leo and I are up for suggestions. We like history, good ethnic food, beautiful sights, and drinks that come with umbrellas in them. We're considering Tulum and Chichén Itzá. Let me know if you've got other ideas.

poor kermie

Via Jane

breathe easy

This is very cool, but I doubt that the machine is as comforting as the dogs that do the same thing.
Lasers Detect Disease in Patient Breath
Eric Bland, Discovery News
Feb. 22, 2008 -- Diagnosing life threatening diseases could soon be as easy as breathing.

Researchers at the National Institute for Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado are now using lasers to detect specific chemical compounds in the breath of patients with cancer, asthma and diabetes.

The technique, once perfected and commercialized, could save patients and insurance companies thousands of dollars and make disease diagnosis and monitoring faster and more efficient.

"We hope that the technology will develop to be a very useful tool for preventive medicine," said Jun Ye, a study author and a physics professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. "It can provide an early warning system to potential patients."

The researchers use a technology known as an optical frequency comb. When a person breathes into a small chamber the scientists bombard the exhaled air with lasers of different wavelengths (making up the "comb"). Different sized laser beams excite specific compounds, which then emit different colors of light. These colors are read by another machine.

In a much simplified version of the technique, the researchers simply look and see what color the breath is after interacting with the comb and then diagnose a condition based on the color.

The laser test, described in the Feb. 18 online edition of Optics Express, is sensitive enough to detect a few molecules out of several billion.

Scientists have known for years that certain diseases and conditions cause minute changes to a person's breath. Diseases cause physiologic changes inside the body, creating new chemical compounds that can either change the chemical composition of the air exiting the lungs, or add new chemicals that aren't found in healthy lungs.

Asthma patients will often exhale carbonyl sulfide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen peroxide and nitric oxide all together. Diabetics often have sweet smelling breath, the result of an inability to process certain sugars.

Even kidney failure and liver disease can change a person's breath at the molecular level. Figuring out the specific biochemical reactions that changes a person's breath is a hot topic of research, notes Ye.

"This is a new kind of non-invasive and shockingly inexpensive assay technique," said John Hall, a retired physics professor whose work with lasers earned him a 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics.

While the device is still being developed, Hall, who was not involved in the work, expects that a commercial version of the device would fit inside an average suitcase and cost between $30,000-50,000.

For his own interest, Hall had the researchers use the device to test his own breath for the presence of nitrate, which can indicate renal failure.

"I was terribly pleased to learn that I don't have it," he said.

dimanche, février 24, 2008

drink it?

I love olive oil as much as the next person. And I'm hoping to be around for a good, long time. But I'd sooner drink cat pee daily than live to be 120.
A daily glass of olive oil keeps the doctor away
Posted Feb 22nd 2008 10:03AM by Marisa McClellan
Mariam Amash, a woman living in an Israeli village, recently astounded officials when she filed for a new identity card, declaring an age of 120 years old. She says she was born in 1888, when the Turks still ran the holy land. Her secret to long life? Walk regularly and drink a glass of olive oil every day. Al Dente did the math and figured out that she has consumed at least 43,800 glasses--roughly 2,737 gallons of olive oil.

Studies have found that the monounsaturated oils in olive oil not only help reduce blood cholesterol, it also "cause less production of the bile acids in the digestive tract that promote colon cancer development." Additionally, it is less likely to generate free radicals in the body than other fats, it strengthens the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fats and blocks the activation carcinogens. With all the olive oil she's consumed over the years, it's no wonder she's lived such a long life.

white balsamic vinaigrette

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinaigrette
1 TBSP honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp granulated garlic (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bottle and shake.

chicken saltimbocca done right

We made this for dinner a few weeks ago, along with a spinach salad in white balsamic vinaigrette and herbed basmati rice.
Buy cutlets that are approximately 5 to 6 inches long. If the tip is too thin, trim back 1 to 2 inches to make the cutlet of uniform thickness. If cutlets are unavailable, you can make your own with four (8-ounce) boneless, skinless breasts. Although whole sage leaves make a beautiful presentation, they are optional and can be left out of step 3. Make sure to buy prosciutto that is thinly sliced, not shaved; also avoid slices that are too thick, as they won’t stick to the chicken.

½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Ground black pepper
8 thin boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets (about 2 pounds), trimmed of ragged edges as necessary
1 TBSP minced fresh sage leaves
8 large whole leaves (optional)
8 thin slices of prosciutto, cut into 5- to 6-inch-long pieces to match cutlets (about 3 ounces)
4 TBSP olive oil
1 ¾ cups dry vermouth or white wine
2 tsp lemon juice
4 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and chilled
1 TBSP minced fresh parsley leaves
Table salt
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Place flour in shallow dish.
  2. Pat cutlets dry with paper towels. Pepper the chicken breasts, then dredge in flour, shaking off any excess. Lay cutlets flat and sprinkle evenly with minced sage. Place 1 prosciutto slice on top of each cutlet, pressing lightly to adhere; set aside.
  3. Heat 2 TBSP oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until beginning to shimmer. Add sage leaves (if using) and cook until leaves begin to change color and are fragrant, about 15 to 20 seconds. Using slotted spoon, remove sage to paper towel-lined plate; reserve. Add half of cutlets to pan, prosciutto side down, and cook until light brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook on other side until light golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to wire rack set on rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining 2 TBSP oil and cutlets, then transfer to oven to keep warm while preparing sauce.
  4. Pour off excess fat from skillet. Stir in vermouth, scraping up any browned bits, and simmer until reduced to about ⅓ cup, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Turn heat to low and whisk in butter, 1 TBSP at a time. Off heat, stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper. Remove chicken from oven and place on platter. Spoon sauce over cutlets before serving.
Yield: 4 servings
Source: Cook’s Illustrated, March-April 2008


"When people show you who they are, believe them."
Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson, April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, is an American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," (1969)which was nominated for a National Book Award and called her magnum opus. Her volume of poetry, "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die" (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

samedi, février 23, 2008

dance with me

You could say that I have dance on the brain lately.

Ever since Leo surprised me with dance lessons for Valentine's Day, I've (mentally) been on cloud nine, despite the state of my right hand after my recent wrist surgery. Everywhere I look, I see dance; everything I hear seems to be about dance. Enter Nouvelle Vague ...

They covered an old 80s favorite of mine, "Dance with Me" by Lords of the New Church, a song that always got me on the dance floor back in my goth nightclub days. While looking for the original song's video (I'd never seen it), I ran across this video of Nouvelle Vague's cover. It cleverly and seamlessly overlays footage from the dance scene in Goddard's "Bande a Part." True to form, Nouvelle Vague has taken something completely different (in this case, a rocking dance scene from French new wave cinema) and changed the feeling completely. I think it works beautifully.

nouvelle vague "dance with me" video

Original scene from "Bande a Part."

HPV and boys

Gardasil is the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. It's approved for use in girls and boys in Mexico, Australia, and the EU. (But not in the U.S.)

Of course it's controversial in this country -- if this were a vaccine to prevent breast, prostate, colon ... or any other cancer, I suspect that this would be a no-brainer to most parents. But because cervical cancer is the consequence of sex ... and affects women only ... it's not as important to most parents. (This, despite the fact that HPV can cause penile, anal, and certain types of head and neck cancers.)
Vaccinating Boys for Girls’ Sake?
February 24, 2008
HOW cool are those Gardasil Girls? Riding horses, flinging softballs, bashing away on drum sets: on the television commercials, they are pugnacious and utterly winning. They want to be “One Less,” they chant — one less victim of cervical cancer. Get vaccinated with Gardasil, they urge their sisters. Protect yourselves against the human papillomavirus, or H.P.V., which causes cervical cancer.

But someone’s missing from this grrlpower tableau.

Ah, that would be Gardasil Boy.

Gardasil Girl’s cancer-related virus? Sexually transmitted. She almost certainly got it from him.

So far, Gardasil is approved just for girls. They can be vaccinated when they are as young as 9, although it’s recommended for 11- and 12-year-olds, before they are sexually active.

As the commercials show, the pitch to Gardasil Girl’s parents doesn’t need to address sex: it’s about protecting their daughter from a cancer.

By 2009, the vaccine could be approved for boys as well. Although Gardasil also protects against genital warts, which are not life-threatening, the primary reason to extend approval to boys would be to slow the rates of cervical cancer. Public health folks charmlessly call this “herd immunity.”

Will parents of sons consent to a three-shot regimen that has been marketed as benefiting girls? How do you pitch that to Gardasil Boy’s parents?

Think altruism. Responsibility. Chivalry, even? Oh, and yes: some explicit details about genital warts and sexual transmission.

Madeline Cattell, an interior design consultant in Beverly, Mass., and the mother of two boys, ages 8 and 12, never paid much attention to Gardasil, assuming it was a gender-specific vaccine for a gender-specific disease. She was surprised that her boys might be offered it one day.

“You don’t want to say it’s just the girls’ problem,” Mrs. Cattell said hesitantly. “But my sons won’t contract cervical cancer. And genital warts are treatable. I’m very skeptical. What risks will I expose them to?”

Gardasil got off to a rocky start. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006, for girls and young women, ages 9 to 26, it came under attack for its high cost. Conservative groups feared it would encourage promiscuity. But buoyed by recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Merck has distributed 13 million doses in the United States alone; insurance picked up much of the tab. In 2007, worldwide sales of Gardasil brought in $1.5 billion.

Gardasil protects against four types of H.P.V. Two have been found in 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The other two types account for 90 percent of genital warts, which affect both men and women. Immunization gives protection for five years.

Sometime this year, Merck will submit data to the F.D.A. seeking approval to give Gardasil to boys. In Australia, Mexico and countries in the European Union, the vaccine is approved for boys.

“We have a very clear benefit that we offer to men,” said Dr. Richard M. Haupt, Merck’s executive director of clinical research, referring to the warts, “even if they don’t feel they need to have an altruistic reason to get the vaccine.”

Of course, many parents will automatically dismiss Gardasil. They view Big Pharma in general and new vaccines in particular with suspicion. Barbara Goodstein, a Manhattan insurance executive, who has a daughter, 10, and a son, 12, plans to refuse the vaccine for both. “I wouldn’t give children that young a shot without multiple generations of research,” she said.

A competing vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline to protect females between the ages of 10 and 55, is being reviewed by the F.D.A. The company is studying its vaccine, Cervarix, in boys as well as girls in Finland. Cervarix does not protect against genital warts. Boys are being included in the trial to see whether vaccinating them will help eradicate cervical cancer.

That’s good enough for some mothers. “If there was a vaccine I could take that would get rid of prostate cancer, why wouldn’t I?” said Lisa Lippman, a Manhattan real estate broker with three sons. “If there was a vaccine that sons could get that would get rid of breast cancer, most parents wouldn’t hesitate. But cervical cancer is the ‘sex cancer.’ ”

A few reports show that American parents generally favor the Big Idea that Gardasil be made available to both boys and girls. But few surveys discern whether parents would consider the vaccine specifically for their own sons. In 2003, Dr. Elyse Olshen Kharbanda interviewed Boston-area parents.

“They didn’t see it as having much benefit for their sons,” said Dr. Kharbanda, now an adolescent specialist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “It was smart of Merck to get people excited about it for the girls, but now they’re stuck with that perception.”

Cervical cancer, which kills a quarter-million women a year worldwide, has long been a subject of urgent research. In the United States, about 3,700 women die from it each year; screenings like Pap smears have greatly lowered mortality rates here. But H.P.V. also causes a host of precancerous conditions: a study put the annual cost of cervical H.P.V.-related disease at $2.25 billion to $4.6 billion.

H.P.V. is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are estimates of six million new infections in the United States each year. Yet, of more than 100 types of H.P.V., only a handful may result in disease. Most people who are infected have no symptoms and can transmit it unknowingly.

At least a half-million Americans each year develop genital warts, which can reoccur. But is Gardasil’s protection against warts enough for parents of sons?

“It’s not life-threatening, but it’s very stressful,” said Susan L. Rosenthal, a specialist in adolescent psychology at the University of Texas at Galveston and an adviser to Merck. “Genital warts are a really yucky disease and they make you feel bad about an important, sensitive body part. Psychologically, it’s not an insignificant infection.”

Baruch Fischhoff, a professor of decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon, thinks that older boys may see a mix of benefits in Gardasil. “Being able to say to a girl, casually, that you had the shots, boys might think, ‘If I can slip that into the conversation, it makes me less of a risk and seem like more of a humanitarian,’ ” Dr. Fischhoff said. “So the self-interested and altruistic motives could actually support each other.”

Some doctors even envisioned college kids, gay and straight, insisting partners get vaccinated.

Down the road, the vaccine may have other benefits. H.P.V. also causes anal and penile cancers, which are relatively rare, and some head and neck cancers.

The burden of explaining genital warts to fifth-grade boys and their parents, as well as spelling out how boys could give girls a virus that could lead to cancer, will largely fall on pediatricians.

Dr. Evelyn Hurvitz, a pediatrician in Tonawanda, N.Y., is beginning to map out those Gardasil discussions. “If you have an 11-year-old boy in your office,” she mused, “the last thing he’s thinking about is having sex with a girl. He’s still thinking about getting past talking to a girl.”

Tough sell.

“Then you have the parent of a 15-year-old boy who might be sexually active,” Dr. Hurvitz continued. “And so I would say, ‘This is a disease he could give to a loved one.’ And then I’ll hear, ‘But our son isn’t sexually active.’ And he’ll be squirming. So I’ll say, ‘Maybe not, but eventually he will be.’ ”

Dr. Hurvitz wishes that Gardasil had been available for boys and girls from the outset: “It would have been easier to get across the idea that this is a vaccine to prevent transmission of H.P.V.,” she said.

A few prescient pediatricians are already laying a foundation. The other day, during Cathy Anderson’s 11-year-old son’s annual check-up, the pediatrician mentioned that Gardasil might become available for boys.

“He talked about taking responsibility for controlling a communicable disease,” said Mrs. Anderson, a stay-at-home mother in West Lafayette, Ind. “My first reaction was: ‘Well, that makes sense.’ Then I told my son he wouldn’t have to worry about the disease, because he wouldn’t be having sex until he’d been married for a long time.”

a day in the life of joe republican...

As a tree-hugging, godless, commie, environmentalist wacko, elitist, America-hating, wine-drinking, cheese-eating, big-government- and girly-man-loving, fancy-pants liberal American in this country, I love this.
Joe gets up and fills his coffee pot with water. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.

Joe takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance -- now Joe gets it too.

He prepares breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He takes the subway which saves him considerable money in parking and gas because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation.

He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to join the union.

If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker's compensation or an unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

Joe's bank deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers.

Joe has a Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and a below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

Joe drives a car which is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards.

He visits his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

His father lives on Social Security and a pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe listens to a conservative radio talk show. Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."
Via Healy

jeudi, février 21, 2008

backwards & in high heels

I've been a fan of Aaryn Belfer's "Backwards & in High Heels" column for some time. Today, she was on campus for a conversation about a variety of things and impressed me in the flesh, as she has in print. I share her sense of moral outrage, and admire her outrageousness.

For the uninitiated ...
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
By Aaryn Belfer
October 17, 2007

Or just toss it out the window when you’re done with it

Has everyone in this country gone–as my daughter Ruby likes to say–cuckoo bananas? I mean, I realize that, at times, I could make the very most of a padded room. But generally speaking, when I step back and dare to behold the belching demon that is my fellow American, I begin to feel like I’m “normal.” And I know for a fact that I’m not normal. Decent: Yes. Normal? What is that?

Two weekends ago, I headed with my family down to The Valley. Apparently, it’s what normal San Diego families do on weekends. They make their pilgrimage like diligent members of the herd, to the big-box stores for some good ol’ contemporary consumption. King George commanded all Americans to shop after 9/11 and, by God, Sam and I haven’t stopped throwing elbows over Charmin Ultra in bulk ever since. If that’s not evidence of my boundless patriotism, then I might as well burn a flag.

So there we were, bumping down Texas Street after our Saturday-morning ritual at my second-favorite independent coffeehouse, listening to “The Wheels on the Bus” for the 157th time that hour. Our tiny roommate in the back seat is kept happy only by the continuous loop of this charming jingle, and so it is that we endure. She was happy, which meant we were happy, if not borderline straightjacket-y. It was warm out, the windows were down and the sun was shining. Hell, I suspect bluebirds were probably chirping, though I don’t know for certain because all I could hear was “The door on the bus goes open and shut, open and shut, open and shut….”

What I’m saying is that it was a lovely day and everyone in the Belfer Bubble was copasetic as we pulled up behind the predictable line of mostly SUVs pointed toward Target, each idling patiently at the stoplight just beyond the I-8 overpass. As Sam slowed our car, I saw a ginormous soda can—because 16 ounces of poison just doesn’t quench the bottomless American thirst any more—fly from the passenger window of an oversized white minivan two cars ahead of us. It hit the ground with a thunk, weighted by the evidently no-longer-wanted contents, and rolled to a lopsided stop just next to the front right tire.

“Honey,” I said, in disbelief. “Did you see that?!? Someone in that car up there just threw a pop can out the window! Like, an Arizona Iced Tea can! A huge can! Out the window!”

My husband (aka “MacGyver”) invoked his cat-like reflexes to do a seamless blind-spot-assessment-slash-lane-change combo and expertly positioned us next to the offending earth trampler. He called across to the driver, “Excuse me, but—did you drop something?” The woman at the steering wheel was on her cell phone. She leaned lazily toward us, lowered the mouthpiece of her phone below her jaw line, shrugged in the direction of the Future World Leader sitting in the passenger seat of her monstrous vehicle and with an apathetic eye-roll, explained the obvious: “She did it.”

Then she went back to her phone conversation.

Which is, of course, when I hopped out of the car, ran around to the other side, scooped up the super-sized aluminum can—all with more grace than Suzanne Farrell—handed it to the child litterer and calmly uttered, “Respect Your Mother.”

It was a moment of Super Mom brilliance. I should have been wearing a cape or, better yet, Wonder Woman’s outfit. Here I was, expertly modeling appropriate behavior for my own child, as well as the trash-flinger and her mother. It was totally kick ass—except for the fact that it’s totally a figment of my imagination. But it’s what I would have done had the light not changed, I swear.

Instead, I shouted in as-of-yet unrecorded decibels across MacGyver’s face and above the mommies on the bus going shh, shh, shh, “You should get out of your car and pick up your trash!” It was all very diplomatic and civil, which is why I cannot understand why my adversary wasn’t persuaded. As we all started to pull away, the woman was flipping me off with the hand that should have been on her steering wheel and was shrieking at me to “fuck off!” and to go “fuck [my]self!” and offered some other specifics as to how I should best go fuck something. And she was still holding the cell phone to her ear.

Which brings me right back to my initial question: Have we all gone cuckoo bananas? I still can’t decide which of the offenses is the most outrageous: That a small child was ingesting 24 ounces of high-fructose corn syrup, or that she threw trash on the ground without reproach? Was it the indifferent acceptance of this behavior by the mother—as if it were completely beyond her control—or that she didn’t hesitate to eviscerate me in front of her babe with her vibrant vocabulary? Was it that she did it all with a cell phone affixed to her vacuous noggin? Or maybe it’s the combination of these things that make the whole so much more ghastly than the sum of its reprehensible parts—the whole that makes me feel like I’m living in a funhouse.

Listen, if this kid is the future, we’re in trouble. Not that it’s her fault: Lazy momma’s the kingpin here. Being a parent requires participation. You have to do stuff with your kid, like teach her things. You have to talk with her and say phrases like, “No, you may not have _______” and “Pick up your mess” and “That mean lady just told mommy to fuck off because that mean lady is a douche bag.” Not everyone is cut out for this. Certainly, I never thought I was, but in comparison to some of what’s out there, I’m Carol Brady. On Ketel One. And hash. And maybe ’shrooms once a year at Burning Man, but that’s it. See how normal I am?

The hardest part of raising a human—the most hair-pulling part of parenthood, which I dread even more than nursery rhymes set to xylophones—is dealing with insufferable parents. Parents like this one, who raise a generation that will buy sugar in bulk, carelessly toss what’s no longer sating them, burp its disregard for anything beyond its Game Boy and then repeat. It is this that will see the nice young men in their clean white coats, coming to take me away.

(Published today in CityBeat.)

don't sleep.

As many of you know, I'm not a registered Democrat. (I voted Green in the primary.)
As many of you also know, I'm slightly more pro-Hillary than pro-Obama.
And, as many of you know, I'd sooner vote for the turnip in my fridge than whomever the GOP nominates. (Come November, I'm voting for the Democratic party's nominee.)

Despite my favoring Hillary over Obama, I found this young man's perspective particularly inspiring. And I'm not alone. The Economist writes:
ONE of the most interesting political videos on YouTube features a young Obama supporter, Derrick Ashong. A camera-wielding interviewer collars Mr Ashong in the street and starts to pepper him with questions. The interviewer assumes that his victim's casual appearance—he is wearing a baseball hat, a shell necklace and is chewing gum—betokens an equally casual approach to politics. "Do you have any specifics?" he demands aggressively. "What are their policies?" Mr Ashong delivers a series of carefully argued replies that could form the basis of an editorial in a serious newspaper. The interviewer is increasingly abashed. But, having delivered his defence of Barack Obama, Mr Ashong concludes the interview by saying "I'm independent. I'm not a Democrat. I might vote for McCain."
It's not one of the damn "yes we can" videos (which didn't do much for me ... other than the McCain parody, which slayed me). Listen to what Derrick has to say, especially in the second video. Don't sleep. And get out and vote in November, people.

Video: Interviewer Picks The Wrong Obama Supporter to Try To Railroad « Think On These Things

Video: Obama Supporter, Derrick, Responds to the Video and Explains Emotional View « Think On These Things

Via Yvonne

mardi, février 19, 2008

an early year abroad

I would've jumped at this kind of opportunity as a high school grad getting ready to head off to college.
Princeton Plans for an Early Year Abroad
Published: February 19, 2008

Seizing on students’ desire for a year off before college, Princeton University is working to create a program to send a tenth or more of its newly admitted students to a year of social service work in a foreign country before they set foot on campus as freshmen.

Princeton’s president, Shirley M. Tilghman, said in an interview that such a program would give students a more international perspective, add to their maturity and give them a break from academic pressures. She called it a year of “cleansing the palate of high school, giving them a year to regroup.”

Dr. Tilghman, speaking ahead of an announcement Tuesday, said that she hoped to begin the program in 2009 and that Princeton would not charge tuition for the year abroad, and would even offer financial assistance to those who needed it. A committee of faculty and staff members, as well as students, is to work out other details.

Growing numbers of high school students have opted to take a “gap year” before entering college, and many colleges offer one-year deferrals to students they admit. A small industry has developed to place some of them in work or travel experiences in other countries that often cost thousands of dollars. But experts say they believe that Princeton will be the first university to formalize such a program for entering freshmen, though many institutions offer study-abroad programs for students already on campus.

Proponents of the year off say it allows students to discover themselves and the world before they enter college.

“People are too young when they start college,” said Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. “This way, they would have a year to mature, and they can do something constructive.”

Dr. Goodman said most programs sending high school students to study in other countries placed the students with host families. And, he said, college students who enter study-abroad programs usually go after a couple of years of college, so they have had more experience living independently.

As for Princeton’s idea, he said: “I can imagine the lawyers having some hesitation about this. The kids are young. The university doesn’t know them yet. And it is not safe in every country in the world.”

But, he added, “I still think it’s neat, and that it’s very doable.”

The university said it expected to start with a smaller group of students and expand to 10 percent or more of its entering class.

Dr. Tilghman said that she recognized that not all families would be interested in the program, but that she expected it to appeal to many. She said that the university had enough money to run the program for a couple of years and that she expected to raise more to pay for it on a permanent basis.

The committee to be announced Tuesday will work out details including what the program will cost, the legal issues, how students are to be selected and what organizations they may work with abroad.

lundi, février 18, 2008

winking pauses

I was once lucky enough to make my living as a writer. In that job, I had a boss who was "the coolest authority figure ever" (according to our student programmer). He was also an amazing editor with some interesting quirks re: punctuation. (He hated exclamation points and once offered to do an interpretive dance on the proper use of the comma.) Rick, this one's for you...
Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location
Published: February 18, 2008
It was nearly hidden on a New York City Transit public service placard exhorting subway riders not to leave their newspaper behind when they get off the train.

“Please put it in a trash can,” riders are reminded. After which Neil Neches, an erudite writer in the transit agency’s marketing and service information department, inserted a semicolon. The rest of the sentence reads, “that’s good news for everyone.”

Semicolon sightings in the city are unusual, period, much less in exhortations drafted by committees of civil servants. In literature and journalism, not to mention in advertising, the semicolon has been largely jettisoned as a pretentious anachronism.

Americans, in particular, prefer shorter sentences without, as style books advise, that distinct division between statements that are closely related but require a separation more prolonged than a conjunction and more emphatic than a comma.

“When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life,” Kurt Vonnegut once said. “Old age is more like a semicolon.”

In terms of punctuation, semicolons signal something New Yorkers rarely do. Frank McCourt, the writer and former English teacher at Stuyvesant High School, describes the semicolon as the yellow traffic light of a “New York sentence.” In response, most New Yorkers accelerate; they don’t pause to contemplate.

Semicolons are supposed to be introduced into the curriculum of the New York City public schools in the third grade. That is where Mr. Neches, the 55-year-old New York City Transit marketing manager, learned them, before graduating from Tilden High School and Brooklyn College, where he majored in English and later received a master’s degree in creative writing.

But, whatever one’s personal feelings about semicolons, some people don’t use them because they never learned how.

In fact, when Mr. Neches was informed by a supervisor that a reporter was inquiring about who was responsible for the semicolon, he was concerned.

“I thought at first somebody was complaining,” he said.

One of the school system’s most notorious graduates, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer who taunted police and the press with rambling handwritten notes, was, as the columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote, the only murderer he ever encountered who could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver. (Mr. Berkowitz, by the way, is now serving an even longer sentence.)

But the rules of grammar are routinely violated on both sides of the law.

People have lost fortunes and even been put to death because of imprecise punctuation involving semicolons in legal papers. In 2004, a court in San Francisco rejected a conservative group’s challenge to a statute allowing gay marriage because the operative phrases were separated incorrectly by a semicolon instead of by the proper conjunction.

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker, pronounced the subway poster’s use of the semicolon to be “impeccable.”

Lynne Truss, author of “Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” called it a “lovely example” of proper punctuation.

Geoffrey Nunberg, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, praised the “burgeoning of punctuational literacy in unlikely places.”

Allan M. Siegal, a longtime arbiter of New York Times style before retiring, opined, “The semicolon is correct, though I’d have used a colon, which I think would be a bit more sophisticated in that sentence.”

The linguist Noam Chomsky sniffed, “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”

New York City Transit’s unintended agenda notwithstanding, e-mail messages and text-messaging may jeopardize the last vestiges of semicolons. They still live on, though, in emoticons, those graphic emblems of our grins, grimaces and other facial expressions.

The semicolon, befittingly, symbolizes a wink.

longing for the days of readers

I love the lede on this article and how 19th century cigar rollers made their lives less mindnumbing. But those are all tactics to make work more palatable. Nowadays, I listen to music while coding or writing when possible. I also have NPR, music, or an audio book on whenever I'm exercising or in the car for more than a few minutes. Each is a way to pass the time and focus less on the distasteful task at hand.
Technology Can Be a Blessing for Bored Workers
Published: February 18, 2008
OF all the repetitive, mind-numbing jobs in the late 19th century, cigar-rolling was special.

Unlike sewing clothes, mining coal or forging steel, it was blessedly quiet. And thus cigar workers, whether in Chicago or Havana, were the first ones in their time who managed to introduce that vital commodity — distraction — onto the work floor.

Using their own wages, and backed by a powerful union, they paid for a “reader” who sat in an elevated chair and began the morning with the news and political commentary. By the afternoon, he would usually have switched to a popular novel. The 100 or so rollers on the floor were his captive audience, listening as they worked.

Today, the outside world has managed to sneak into the workplace through personal music players and cellphones, not always with official consent. But discussion of the effects of technology on our working lives is almost always restricted to office workers, who often see cellphones and BlackBerrys as emblems of their busy lives.

For blue-collar workers in many occupations, however, cellphones and music players have also had profound effects — including escape from the tedium or the physical isolation of their jobs. Unlike white-collar workers, many of these workers face restrictions from employers or objections from customers.

New Yorkers like to complain about cabbies talking on cellphones, but they rarely ask themselves why someone driving a cab late at night far from home needs the phone in the first place.

Music helps many postal workers stay sharp during what is often repetitive work. Giselle E. Ambursley, part of a group of five or six who work on a mail-sorting machine at the Postal Service’s Morgan Processing and Distribution Center in Manhattan, said that on a typical day, “four out of five” listen to music. “It helps most of us get through the day.”

“I remember when I first got a Walkman,” she said. “I was excited, especially about using it at work. I bought tapes galore. I have thousands of dollars worth of tapes.” Ms. Ambursley, a shop steward in the American Postal Workers Union, now uses a Microsoft Zune and says she intends to convert those tapes into digital files for her player.

Cellphones are another matter. Cellphone conversations are not tolerated while working because supervisors see them as a distraction, Ms. Ambursley said, and when a call comes in, it can be returned only when off the floor. It is a shame, she said, because for night workers, the calls are often short — wishing a good night or helping with homework — and some people can easily use a hands-free cellphone while working. The time spent leaving the work floor is a waste, she said. “They keep bringing up safety, but I bring up productivity.”

David White, a freelance truck driver from Amherst, Mass., said his Treo 700 — a phone with an Internet connection — made the many days he spends away from home more comfortable. While he recognizes that truckers are not the stereotypical users of a Treo, he thinks they are ideal users. “Getting my Hotmail — now Yahoo mail — on my P.D.A., that made a world of difference,” he said. “It didn’t matter if I was living in a truck.”

His iPod is another critical gadget. He says he downloads audio books from and listens to them through an adapter in the tape deck in his truck.

His job does have advantages, he says. “You’ve got no boss, no one bothering you. You just have to show up,” he said, but even so, “if I didn’t have the books, I couldn’t do it.”

Last Christmas season, however, he worked as a temporary employee for United Parcel Service, moving packages — but not making deliveries — and he found that the trucks had no tape decks. There were speakers, he said, and he saw that some full-time employees had rigged CD players and radios to connect to the speakers. He was leery, however, of using them without permission. He was left, he said, to listen to the G.P.S. road directions. “It was a little British voice,” he said. “Even that much was enough.”

Truckers and mail sorters have an advantage, however, that other workers do not: they largely do not deal with the public. Cab drivers, for example, are the most widely vilified users of cellphones in the workplace because they use them in front of customers. In New York, cabbies are not permitted to use cellphones while driving. The city has been sending undercover inspectors to ticket them.

Likewise, U.P.S. delivery drivers are not permitted to listen to music. Nor are trainees at the Ready, Willing and Able program in New York who clean the streets. The program’s spokesman said they “are learning how to be responsible workers, which includes balancing work and personal life.” He said they are highly visible, so “New Yorkers can see them on their cellphones or listening to music, as opposed to interacting with each other and the public.”

Biju Mathew, a professor of technology at Rider College who has been an advocate for taxi drivers, said cellphones have replaced the citizens’ band radio system. CB was “completely communal,” he said. With the arrival of cellphones, “it was broken down to a series of individual conversations,” he said. But with newer technology, he said, the drivers frequently speak in groups of 6 to 10 drivers in conference calls.

“They found that a single conversation is isolating, and they are back to communal discussions. They have readapted the technology.”

The cigar makers faced restrictions of their own. After a strike in 1931 in Tampa, Fla., failed, said Nancy Hewitt, a Rutgers history professor, the workers returned, but the factory owners had dismantled the readers’ chairs. “They replaced the readers with radios,” she said.

Over the next decade, industrial production came to the cigar factory and the radios were gone, too — no one could hear them over the noise.

dimanche, février 17, 2008

uruguayo como el mate

You can take the boy out of Uruguay, but you can't take Uruguay out of the boy ... as passionate as Leo is about his soccer team (Nacional), his murgas (think singing meets political theatre meets social commentary meets toilet humor), and his asados (amazing barbecues including beef, chicken, chorizo, and some offal), he's not a habitual mate drinker. This shot, taken in Montevideo last February, is of him mateando with me and his cousin before a tablado (murga performance during carnaval) began.

While there last year, it became clear just how ubiquitous mate is. Young people, old people, men, women, children ... everyone carries a thermos under one arm, a mate (the traditional gourd from which it is sipped), a bombilla (the metal straw/strainer through which the unbagged tea is sipped) around at all times. We were at the beach on a hot sunny day, and old men and little girls were drinking the steaming tea in the middle of summer.

I tried mate while in Uruguay. Leo's aunt passed me the mate and, after drinking, my face made it clear that I didn't enjoy the bitter drink. The next time the mate was passed my way, Leo took a photo of my response. His cousin Javier (who wasn't at that gathering) later correctly commented that it was obvious that that wasn't the first time I tried it -- my face wasn't sufficiently twisted.

Mate isn't a new concept to me. My mother has bombillas, and large, traditional Paraguayan tereré (containers made from cow's horns) as decorations in her home. Paraguayans, Uruguayans, Argentines, Brazilians, some Bolivians and Chileans, and (oddly enough) Syrians and Lebanese) all drink mate, although the Paraguayans prefer theirs cold, much to the horror of Uruguayans.
The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping dry leaves (and twigs) of yerba mate in hot water, rather than in boiling water like black tea. It is a slightly less potent stimulant than coffee and much gentler on the stomach. Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a mate in Spanish, or cabaça or cuia in Portuguese) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba or canudo in Portuguese) is an extremely common social practice in Argentina,[3][4] Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Chile, eastern Bolivia and Brazil [5] and also Syria and Lebanon.

The flavor of brewed yerba mate is strongly vegetal, herbal, and grassy, reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. Many consider the flavor to be very agreeable, but it is generally bitter if steeped in boiling water, so it is made using hot but not boiling water. Unlike most teas, it does not become bitter and astringent when steeped for extended periods, and the leaves may be infused several times. Additionally, one can purchase flavored mate in many varieties
In Paraguay, yerba mate is also drunk as a cold beverage. Usually drunk out of a cows horn in the countryside, tereré as it is known in the Guaraní language, is served with cold or iced water. Medicinal herbs, known as "yuyos", are mixed in a mortar and pestle and added to the water for taste or medicinal reasons.
I recently saw this ad, by Canarias, one of the biggest name brands in yerba mate, and thought it was excellent. The second one also captures scenes from Montevideo and the ubiquity that is mate. That led me to many other user-generated videos on how to make mate. The last one included below was the best.

lead in your lipstick?

I've been following the beauty industry and its use of phthalates and other ingredients that are known carcinogens and hormone disrupters in cosmetics for awhile now. What floors me is how little mainstream attention is being focused on this issue -- I understand that Vogue and other women's magazines aren't about to kick their advertisers in the teeth by calling their ingredients into question ... it's the silence of the rest of the media that gets me.

Yesterday, a fellow grad student was re-applying her lipgloss, so I asked to see it. After reading the ingredients, I gave it back to her and told her about the campaign for safe cosmetics and the environmental working group's efforts to have manufacturers stop using certain ingredients and to disclose all ingredients used. She'd never heard of either.

Today, I stumbled on this recent article in the Washington Post. It's nice to see a mainstream paper giving ink to this issue.
Can Beauty Be Dangerous?
By Suzanne D'Amato
The Washington Post
January 27, 2008

Lipstick tainted with lead. Mascara that contains mercury. A hair-straightening treatment that slicks your tresses with protein...and formaldehyde? As three recent controversies show, sometimes the world of beauty can be downright ugly.

Take the lipstick debate. Last fall, a study gave women reason to worry about their war paint: The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 lipsticks for lead, from Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer to L'Oreal Colour Riche. They found that 61 percent of the lipsticks tested contained a detectable amount of the contaminant. In fact, several lipsticks exceeded the Food and Drug Administration's lead limit for candy. (The study used candy as a benchmark not only because women ingest both candy and lipstick -- albeit in vastly different amounts -- but also because the FDA does not set lead standards for lipstick.)

Even a minuscule amount of lead is a big problem, says Campaign for Safe Cosmetics spokeswoman Stacy Malkan. "What the companies will often say is, 'There's a little toxin in one product and you can't say it causes harm,' " she says. "But none of us uses just one product." Lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the body over time, which is why tiny amounts ingested regularly (or in the case of lipstick, multiple times per day) could be hazardous.

Not everyone sees lead in lipstick as quite the issue Malkan does. "Lead is in our environment, even without all the industrial production of chemicals," says John Bailey, chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, a D.C.-based trade association. "It's part of the earth...I don't think it really warrants these alarmist conclusions."

Right now, concerned lipstick lovers don't have a lot of options. "The only way to find out if your lipstick has lead is to send it to a lab and pay $150," Malkan says. "I think that's ridiculous, to expect consumers to do that."

It's considerably easier to find out if your mascara contains mercury. Traditionally added as a preservative, the substance is rare in cosmetics these days. When it exists, it's generally in cake mascaras, such as those made by Paula Dorf and La Femme, rather than wand versions. You may see it listed as "thimerosal," a mercury-based compound.

In eye-area cosmetics, the FDA allows mercury if no other effective preservative is available. The concentration can be up to 65 parts per million. That may not sound like much, but the presence of mercury in any amount worries some people. This month, Minnesota imposed a ban on many products containing the substance, including thermostats, medical devices and, yes, mascara.

"It's a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage in developing fetuses," Malkan says. "Many women get mercury from fish and other sources. We don't need any more."

Bailey says that the FDA uses a voluntary reporting program for cosmetics ingredients; the program has no current registrations that report mercury being used in the eye area, he says. "We certainly can't count on a voluntary reporting program," Malkan says. "We need a real reporting system." To see whether any products you use contain mercury or other potentially hazardous ingredients, she recommends the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Web site (, which lists information on more than 27,000 cosmetics and personal-care products. That may seem like a high number, but it's a small fraction of what's on the market, Malkan says.

The Skin Deep site is a useful resource: It gives each product a 1-to-10 "hazard score" and offers detailed information on its ingredients. But the site analyzes only over-the-counter products. Salon treatments are not examined -- and for controversial ones such as the Brazilian Keratin treatment, that's unfortunate. The BKT, as it's known, is a hair-straightening process that has smitten women in search of silky, frizz-free tresses. It also contains formaldehyde, a carcinogen.

"It is really, truly what I consider the miracle cure for hair," says Dennis Roche, who offers the treatment at his two Roche salons in the District. Roche says his salons use a formulation that contains "under 2 percent" formaldehyde. But he says the percent concentration is irrelevant -- what matters is the amount of formaldehyde that gets released as fumes when heat is applied. Roche says he minimizes that amount by using cool-air hair dryers and flat irons wrapped in heat-protectant tape.

"I'm going to continue doing this because I see the benefits from it, and I don't believe there's any health risk -- nothing more than hair color or fake nails or anything else," Roche says. "I don't think a little hair color is going to hurt anybody."

The issue, of course, is that it's hard to know. Beauty products and treatments don't have to get FDA approval before hitting store shelves; the FDA mandates such approval only for color additives in cosmetics. Sure, most people probably would agree that you shouldn't eat your lipstick or put mascara on a baby. But beyond that, the definition of "dangerous" comes down to different people's ideas about the effects of accumulated toxins. How much is too much? If experts can't agree, consumers can't be confident either.

"I love the way my hair looks. I'm so happy with it," says Roche client Lauren Stempler, who lives in the District and has gotten the Brazilian Keratin treatment twice. "But it's a hard choice....There is that nagging feeling in me that it might not be worth it."

samedi, février 16, 2008


I'm all in favor of groups that meet and discuss ways to be more environmentally conscious and that encourage schools, policymakers, and others to consider the effects of their purchases on kids. This group may be taking it too far in terms of being "greener-than-thou," though.

Then again, if I didn't have to work outside the home, I could spend my days crusading for pvc-free tablecloths at school and being guilty for taking a bath a night to relax. Meanwhile, I'm keeping my day job, raising my organic herbs and tomatoes on my patio, and being as much of a locovore as possible.
For ‘EcoMoms,’ Saving Earth Begins at Home
February 16, 2008
SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — The women gathered in the airy living room, wine poured and pleasantries exchanged. In no time, the conversation turned lively — not about the literary merits of Geraldine Brooks or Cormac McCarthy but the pitfalls of antibacterial hand sanitizers and how to retool the laundry using only cold water and biodegradable detergent during non-prime-time energy hours (after 7 p.m.).

Move over, Tupperware. The EcoMom party has arrived, with its ever-expanding “to do” list that includes preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a “locovore,” eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school (if one must drive). Here, the small talk is about the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school.

Perhaps not since the days of “dishpan hands” has the household been so all-consuming. But instead of gleaming floors and sparkling dishes, the obsession is on installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, buying in bulk and using “smart” power strips that shut off electricity to the espresso machine, microwave, X-Box, VCR, coffee grinder, television and laptop when not in use.

“It’s like eating too many brownies one day and then jogging extra the next,” said Kimberly Danek Pinkson, 38, the founder of the EcoMom Alliance, speaking to the group of efforts to curb eco-guilt through carbon offsets for air travel.

Part “Hints from Heloise” and part political self-help group, the alliance, which Ms. Pinkson says has 9,000 members across the country, joins a growing subculture dedicated to the “green mom,” with blogs and Web sites like and Web-based organizations like the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md., advocate reducing consumption and offer a registry that helps brides “celebrate the less-material wedding of your dreams.”

At an EcoMom circle in Palo Alto, executive mothers whipped out spreadsheets to tally their goals, inspired by a 10-step program that urges using only nontoxic products for cleaning, bathing and make-up, as well as cutting down garbage by 10 percent.

“I used to feel anxiety,” said Kathy Miller, 49, an alliance member, recalling life before she started investigating weather-sensitive irrigation controls for her garden with nine growing zones. “Now I feel I’m doing something.”

The notion of “ecoanxiety” has crept into the culture here. It was the subject of a recent cover story in San Francisco magazine that quotes a Berkeley mother so stressed out about the extravagance of her nightly baths that she started to reuse her daughter’s bath water. Where there is ecoanxiety, of course, there are ecotherapists.

“The truth is, we’re not living very naturally,” said Linda Buzzell, a therapist in Santa Barbara who publishes the quarterly EcoTherapy News and often holds sessions in her backyard permaculture food forest. “We’re in our cars, staring at the computer screen, separated most of the day from the people we love.”

“Activism can help counteract depression,” Ms. Buzzell added. “But if we get caught up in trying to save the world single-handedly, we’re just going to burn out.”

Like many young women, Ms. Pinkson’s motherhood — her son Corbin is now 6 — coincided with Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and the advent of and A favorite online column is “Ask Umbra,” whose author weighs in on whether it is better to buy leather shoes or “pleather” ones that could contain solvents.

Shaina Forsman, a 13-year-old daughter of eco-mother Beth Forsman, said the alliance branch in San Rafael helped her mother take action at home. Her mother turned the thermostat down so low that Shaina sometimes wore a jacket inside, she said proudly. She was also monitoring time spent in the shower, so as not to waste water.

Shaina said she tried to get her mother to compost, but “we got ants.”

One of the country’s wealthiest places, Marin County, is hardly a hub of voluntary simplicity; its global footprint, according to county statistics, is 27 acres per person, a measure of the estimated amount of land it takes to support each person’s lifestyle (24 is the American average).

Members of the EcoMom Alliance “are fighting a values battle,” said Tim Kasser, an associate professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and the author of “The High Price of Materialism.” “They are surrounded by materialism trying to figure out how to create a life more oriented toward intrinsic values.”

Wendy Murphy, 41, a member of EcoMoms in San Anselmo, became an activist after she noticed that the new tablecloths in her children’s preschool contained polyvinyl chloride. She and a fellow mother, working with the Green Schools Initiative, a nonprofit in Berkeley, developed green guidelines for shopping, like buying chlorine-free cleaning products, low-formaldehyde furniture and toys made of natural materials.

The matter of toys is particularly thorny. At the EcoMom party in San Rafael, women traded ideas about recycled toys for birthday presents and children’s clothing swaps. Then there is the issue of the materials used in imported toys. “It’s ‘Mom, these come from China,’ ” Pam Nessi, 35, said of her daughters’ recent inspection of two of their dolls. “It can be overwhelming. You don’t want them to freak out.”

At last year’s Step It Up rallies, a day of environmental demonstrations across the country, the largest group of organizers were “mothers concerned about the disintegrating environment for their children,” said Bill McKibben, a founder of the event and author of “The End of Nature.”

Women have been instrumental in the environmental movement from the start, including their involvement in campaigns a century ago to save the Palisades along the Hudson River and sequoias in California and, more recently, Lois Gibbs’s fight against toxic waste at Love Canal.

In public opinion surveys, women express significantly higher levels of environmental concern than men, said Riley Dunlap, a professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University.

Lately “local lifestyle activism,” much of it driven by women, has been on the rise and is likely to continue, Dr. Dunlap said. “Just belonging to a national environmental organization, which seemed effective in the 1970s and ’80s, doesn’t work anymore, particularly in an era of government unresponsiveness,” he said.

Ms. Pinkson and her colleagues are well aware of “the mom demographic,” as they call it, in which, according to surveys for the Boston Consulting Group, women say they “influence or control” 80 percent of discretionary household purchases. Thus far, their thrust has been more about being green consumers than taking political action.

The eco life can occasionally spawn domestic strife.

Julie DeFord, a 33-year-old mother in Petaluma, said the high cost of organic produce prompted serious “conversations” between her and her husband, Curt, a lawyer, especially after seven nights of chard.

And ecomotherhood is not always sisterly.

At the EcoMom party recently, some guests took the hostess, Liz Held, to task for her wall-to-wall carpeting (potential off-gassing), her painted walls (unhealthful volatile organic compounds) and the freshly cut flowers that she had set out for the occasion (not organic). Their problems with the S.U.V. in the driveway were self-explanatory.

All the new eco-perfectionism did not seem to faze her. “I look around my house and think, ‘I haven’t changed all my light bulbs,’ ” she said. “But it doesn’t fill me with guilt. I think about all the things I’ve done so far. I just try to focus on the positive.”

vendredi, février 15, 2008

i love you, but you love meat

I got really lucky in my relationship with Leo. We happen to like most of the same foods, and we both love to cook. We've also both adapted our eating habits together. Case in point: we're both trying our best to conscientious consumers, paying close attention to how and where our food was raised and the effect it has not only on our bodies and the planet, but also on the economic well-being of those who produced the food.
I Love You, but You Love Meat
February 13, 2008
SOME relationships run aground on the perilous shoals of money, sex or religion. When Shauna James’s new romance hit the rocks, the culprit was wheat.

“I went out with one guy who said I seemed really great but he liked bread too much to date me,” said Ms. James, 41, a writer in Seattle who cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Sharing meals has always been an important courtship ritual and a metaphor for love. But in an age when many people define themselves by what they will eat and what they won’t, dietary differences can put a strain on a romantic relationship. The culinary camps have become so balkanized that some factions consider interdietary dating taboo.

No-holds-barred carnivores, for example, may share the view of Anthony Bourdain, who wrote in his book “Kitchen Confidential” that “vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans ... are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”

Returning the compliment, many vegetarians say they cannot date anyone who eats meat. Vegans, who avoid eating not just animals but animal-derived products, take it further, shivering at the thought of kissing someone who has even sipped honey-sweetened tea.

Ben Abdalla, 42, a real estate agent in Boca Raton, Fla., said he preferred to date fellow vegetarians because meat eaters smell bad and have low energy.

Lisa Romano, 31, a vegan and school psychologist in Belleville, N.Y., said she recently ended a relationship with a man who enjoyed backyard grilling. He had no problem searing her vegan burgers alongside his beef patties, but she found the practice unenlightened and disturbing.

Her disapproval “would have become an issue later even if it wasn’t in the beginning,” Ms. Romano said. “I need someone who is ethically on the same page.”

While some eaters may elevate morality above hedonism, others are suspicious of anyone who does not give in to the pleasure principle.

June Deadrick, 40, a lobbyist in Houston, said she would have a hard time loving a man who did not share her fondness for multicourse meals including wild game and artisanal cheeses. “And I’m talking cheese from a cow, not that awful soy stuff,” she said.

Judging from postings at food Web sites like and, people seem more willing to date those who restrict their diet for health or religion rather than mere dislike.

Typical sentiments included: “Medical and religious issues I can work around as long as the person is sincere and consistent, but flaky, picky cheaters — no way” and “picky eaters are remarkably unsexy.”

Jennifer Esposito, 28, an image consultant who lives in Rye Brook, N.Y., lived for four years with a man who ate only pizza, noodles with butter and the occasional baked potato.

“It was really frustrating because he refused to try anything I made,” she said. They broke up. “Food is a huge part of life,” she said. “It’s something I want to be able to share.”

A year ago Ms. Esposito met and married Michael Esposito, 51, who, like her, is an adventurous and omnivorous eater. Now, she said, she could not be happier. “A relationship is about giving and receiving, and he loves what I cook, and I love to cook for him,” she said.

Food has a strong subconscious link to love, said Kathryn Zerbe, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. That is why refusing a partner’s food “can feel like rejection,” she said.

As with other differences couples face, tolerance and compromise are essential at the dinner table, marital therapists said. “If you can’t allow your partner to have latitude in what he or she eats, then maybe your problem isn’t about food,” said Susan Jaffe, a psychiatrist in Manhattan.

Dynise Balcavage, 42, an associate creative director at an advertising agency and vegan who lives in Philadelphia, said she has been happily married to her omnivorous husband, John Gatti, 53, for seven years.

“We have this little dance we’ve choreographed in the kitchen,” she said. She prepares vegan meals and averts her eyes when he adds anchovies or cheese. And she does not show disapproval when he orders meat in a restaurant.

“I’m not a vegangelical,” she said. “He’s an adult and I respect his choices just as he respects mine.”

In deference to his wife, Mr. Gatti has cut back substantially on his meat consumption and no longer eats veal. For her part, Ms. Balcavage cooks more Italian dishes, her husband’s favorite.

In New York City, Yoshie Fruchter and his girlfriend, Leah Koenig, still wrestle with their dietary differences after almost two years together. He is kosher and she is vegetarian. They eat vegetarian meals at her apartment, where he keeps his own set of dishes and utensils. When eating out they mostly go to kosher restaurants, although they “aren’t known for inspired cuisine,” said Ms. Koenig, 25, who works for a nonprofit environmental group.

Though the couple occasionally visit nonkosher restaurants, Mr. Fruchter, 26, a musician, said he has to order carefully to avoid violating kosher rules. “We’re still figuring out how this is going to work,” he said. “We’re both making sacrifices, which is what you do when you’re in love.”

Even couples who have been eating together happily for years can be thrown into disarray when one partner suddenly takes up a new diet. After 19 years of marriage, Steve Benson unsettled his wife, Jean, when he announced three years ago that he would no longer eat meat, for ethical reasons.

“It had been in my head a long time, but I could have done a better job of talking about it,” said Mr. Benson, 46, a math professor at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Mass. Ms. Benson, who is also 46, and devises grade school curriculums, said she worried her husband would judge her if she continued to eat meat, “but we talked it out and he is not proselytizing.”

Another concern was whether she would be able to cook vegetarian meals that would meet the nutritional needs of everyone in the family, including their teenage daughter. “I wanted us all to eat the same thing for pragmatic, household economy reasons, but also because that’s part of being a family,” Ms. Benson said.

So, she cooks vegetarian dinners and makes lunches for herself and her daughter that include meat. She and her daughter have “meat parties” when Mr. Benson goes out of town, she said.

“There’s this feeling that if we eat the same thing then we are the same thing, and if we don’t, we’re no longer unified,” Dr. Zerbe said. She and Dr. Jaffe said sharing food is an important ritual that enhances relationships. They advise interdietary couples to find meals they can both enjoy. “Or at least a side dish,” Dr. Zerbe said.

For people who like to cook, learning to bridge the dietary divide can be an enjoyable puzzle. Ms. James, the gluten-averse writer, eventually found a man who did not love by bread alone. On her first date with Daniel Ahern, in 2006, she told him that she was gluten-free; he saw it as a professional challenge.

“As a chef, it has given me the opportunity to experiment with new ingredients to create things she can eat,” said Mr. Ahern, 39, who works at Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe in Seattle. Ms. James said she fell in love with him after he made her a gluten-free salad of frisée, poached egg and bacon. They married in September.

Since then, Mr. Ahern has given up eating bread at home, though he still eats it when he goes out. For her part, Ms. James has begun eating offal and foie gras, which were once anathema. “We’ve changed each other,” she said.