Tag Archives: politics

Boob Quickies

6 Apr

This post was originally about boobs.
And then somehow it grew into some sort of verbose blog monster.

I had set out to write about how my breasts have impacted my life, but that post will have to wait for another day. There has been a lot of controversy in our culture lately regarding women. The concept of being a woman in our culture has been the center of a nasty political war, to the point that even a simple blog post about how awesome boobs are turns into a statement of what it means to be a woman. Honestly, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. And as a result, I’ve noticed a surge of woman-related content on my usual Internet browsing sites.
This isn’t going to be the deep and reflective post I intended to write. Mostly, it’s because of the research. There is just so much information out there, so many opinion articles, that I really can’t say what hasn’t already been said before. The primary purpose of this blog is to store and share articles that interest me, since I know I will eventually want to refer back to them. So this post is going to be quickie-style.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of boobs.

(Without boobs, where would be store our kittens?)

First off, the cost of being owning a vagina. Jezebel threw together this nice little article outlining the basic cost of owning a vagina, based on the staffer’s personal experience and drug-store prices. Not incredibly scientific, but enough to give you a ball-park estimate and an average idea of all the items needed for proper maintenance. The list doesn’t include pregnancy costs (though it does include pregnancy test, for those trying and those who have the occasional scare). I suppose it makes sense, if the list is the basics. It inspires me to go through my finances and calculate what its costs for me to maintain my own fabulous lady parts. I already know that bras, at about $75 a piece (+/- $10), typically run me $150 to $225 a year. And eventually I’ll have to start getting breast exams, which are another hefty expense.

SMBC, which always makes me giggle, recently released this delightful gem.

Back to the boobs!
The over-diagnosis of breast cancer is one of those things that a lot of women and feminists are still quiet about, because 1) many of them have had a sister/mother/friend/relative whose life was saved by early detection, and they don’t want to admit that such a case may have been due to over-diagnosis and 2) the medical, social, and political implications are too horrifying to think about.



The road of breast cancer is a very difficult one to endure. Chemo saves many lives, but also takes an incredible physical and emotional toll. Chemo is not “just another drug” that can be handed out like aspirin. Its a detrimental drug which should only be given because the other alternative is death. Additionally, mastectomies are essentially an amputation, and emotionally devastating because of how much importance our culture places on breasts. According to social standards, a huge portion of what it means to be a woman is wrapped up in our breasts, and when one is raised in such an environment, losing a breast can result in a huge psychological toll. Many are still in denial, or trying to come to terms with the concept of breast cancer over-diagnosis. But the reports are still out there, and for the sake of our health and our boobs (which are pretty super awesome), this issue deserves to be  investigated further. Diagnostic techniques are improving, and detecting breast cancer with a single drop of blood may soon be possible. However, on a brighter note, a recent discovery gives us hope in detecting the infamous “triple negative” breast cancer, which is considered the deadliest form of breast cancer.


A few more quickies on breast cancer: The first large-scale U.S.-based study to evaluate the link between an injectable form of progestin-only birth control and breast cancer risk in young women. Stick to the pill, ladies.  There is also a link between long-term estrogen hormone use and breast cancer, and a new breast cancer susceptibility gene, named XRCC2, has been discovered.


I few weeks ago I shared the idea that we should all knit out congressmen a vagina, so they will stay out of ours. The idea was conceived by The Snatchel Project. The Internet loved it! I started seeing crochet and knitted uteruses, vulvas, and cervixes everywhere (Even a uterus lamp). But it’s not the first time woman have used yarn to emulate female anatomy. Knitted tits have been used to raise awareness about breast cancer for years. You can even buy knitted bikini tops.

Today Cracked released a delightful article written by Luke McKinney, “The 7 Most Sexist Things Ever Invented For Boobs.” It’s both horrific and hilarious. I would love to see prototypes of some of these inventions, just so I can giggle in horror.

Political slut quickies: John Stewart explains why the transvaginal ultrasound bill of Virginia has enraged women across the country. Ever since Rush called Sandra Fluke a slut on air, woman have rushing to re-appropriate the word slut. Why? Probably because shame has long been used as a powerful tool to silence women. And there was this controversial Doonesbury comic, which was pulled from several newspapers. (Because it’s okay to call a woman a slut and introduce bills infringing on her rights, but not okay to satirically bring attention to it.)


Also, Elizabeth Banks threatens to bleed all over furniture if women are denied access to the pill, and Rick Perry’s facebook page is now buried with woman asking him about menstruation, and updating him of their flow status.

German Health Care

31 Mar

Mention European health care to an American, and it probably conjures up a negative stereotype — high taxes, long waiting lines, rationed care.

It’s not that way in Germany. Very little tax money goes into the system. The lion’s share comes, as in America, from premiums paid by workers and employers to insurance companies.

German health benefits are very generous. And there’s usually little or no wait to get elective surgery or diagnostic tests, such as MRIs. It’s one of the world’s best health care systems, visible in little ways that most Germans take for granted.


Checking In With An Old Friend
Juergen in der Schmitten was a medical student when I first met him 17 years ago. Now, he’s a 42-year-old general practitioner in a suburb of Dusseldorf.

On one particular night, Juergen was the doctor on call for the region. Any German who needs after-hours care can call a central number and get connected to a doctor.

Around 11 p.m., a woman with a fever called Juergen. She wanted him to make a house call. They talked for maybe five minutes, in the end agreeing that she would come into his office in the morning.

A situation like this would be unlikely in the United States. Americans might not get through to a doctor at all, let alone have a discussion about whether the physician should make a house call in the middle of the night to treat a case of flu.


The Patients’ Perspective
Sabina and Jan Casagrandes say they’ve had really good care from the German health system. And they’ve used it a lot.

Sabina is American, Jan is German. They live in a fourth-floor walkup with their two little girls in Cologne, an ancient city on the Rhine in western Germany.

“I’ve probably been very expensive for the health insurance system here,” Sabina says. “When I was 33 years old, I had a giant lump on my neck all of a sudden, where your thyroid is. And it was a big tumor.”

It took two operations to remove her cancer. Luckily it was curable with surgery and radiation. Sabina says she had the best care she could imagine.

“Then I came home to my little daughter, who I couldn’t really lift up because of my neck having been cut open,” Sabina says. “So I asked my doctor, ‘What can I do?’ And she said, ‘Well, your health insurance will pay for someone to come help you in the house.'”

Sabina’s health insurer paid a friend to shop, cook and even help care for the baby until Sabina was back on her feet. That’s not unusual in Germany. In fact, under the country’s system for long-term care, family members can choose to be paid for taking care of a frail elder at home if they want to avoid nursing home care.


Coverage For All
The health care system that took such good care of Sabina is not funded by government taxes. But it is compulsory. All German workers pay about 8 percent of their gross income to a nonprofit insurance company called a sickness fund. Their employers pay about the same amount. Workers can choose among 240 sickness funds.

Basing premiums on a percentage-of-salary means that the less people make, the less they have to pay. The more money they make, the more they pay. This principle is at the heart of the system. Germans call it “solidarity.” The idea is that everybody’s in it together, and nobody should be without health insurance.

“If I don’t make a lot of money, I don’t have to pay a lot of money for health insurance,” Sabina says. “But I have the same access to health care that someone who makes more money has.”

But she acknowledges that nearly 8 percent of her salary is a sizable bite.

“Yes, it’s expensive. You know, it’s a big chunk of your monthly income,” Sabina says. “But considering what you can get for it, it’s worth it.”

Actually, it’s about the same proportion of income that American workers pay, on average, if they get their health insurance through their job. The big difference is that U.S. employers pay far more, on average, than German employers do — 18 percent of each employee’s gross income versus around 8 percent in Germany.
More Added Benefits In Germany
Moreover, German health insurance has more generous benefits than U.S. policies cover. There are never any deductibles, for instance, before coverage kicks in. And all Germans get the same coverage.

For instance, the Casagrandes’ insurance covers an expensive medicine Jan needs for a chronic intestinal problem. He says if they moved to America, they might not be able to buy insurance at all because of their pre-existing conditions — a nonproblem in Germany.

“He says for himself — or for us — the health care system in the United States is the major reason why we have never moved there, and never will move there. Because both of us have chronic illnesses that have to have a lot of medical attention, and we would go broke,” Sabina says, translating for Jan.

Jan adds something else. “It’s also the No. 1 reason in the United States that people personally go bankrupt,” Sabina translates, “which would never happen here … never!”


Coverage For The Family
On the other side of Germany, in Berlin, we meet another couple who know both the American and German health systems.

Nicole and Chris Ertl own Tip Toe Shoes, a children’s shoe shop in a well-off area of the German capital. The Ertls sell high-quality European shoes — tiny Italian sandals, French and Danish boots and clogs in wonderful colors.

Chris is from San Diego, Nicole is German. She also works part time as a physician therapist and gets her health care through her job like the great majority of Germans. Like the Casagrandes, she’s happy with her coverage.

“It’s a good deal!” she says. “It’s really good because it’s a package.”

It’s a package many Americans might envy. Nicole pays a premium of $270 a month for insurance that covers her children, too. Nicole pays a single $15 copayment once every three months to see her primary-care doctor — and another $15 a quarter to see each specialist, as often as she wants. She pays no copayments for her children’s care —-and her insurance even covers her daughter’s orthodontia bill.

“They always have good care,” Nicole says, “because for kids, everything is free. The drugs, it’s always free” until they turn 18.

 

Different Rules For The Self-Employed
But even though her insurance covers the kids, it doesn’t cover her husband. Because Chris Ertl is self-employed, he has to buy insurance on his own, from a for-profit insurance company.

About one in 10 Germans buy this so-called “private” coverage. It’s not just for people who are self-employed. Civil servants and anyone who makes more than $72,000 a year can opt out of the main system. It’s a kind of safety valve for people who want more and can pay for it.

But most people don’t opt out. Chris says that’s because there’s a fundamental difference in the way Germans view health care and the government’s role — which, in Germany, means refereeing the system and making sure it’s fair and affordable.

“The general opinion in Germany is always that the government will do it for us, everything will be OK,” Chris says. “In the States, I think you grow up knowing that no one’s going to help you do anything. If you want health care, go get it.”

It’s important to remember that the German government doesn’t provide health care or finance it directly. It does regulate insurance companies closely — the nonprofits in the main system and the for-profits where Chris gets his coverage. So Chris’ insurer can’t raise his rates if he gets sick or jack up his premiums too much as he gets older. The government also requires insurers to keep costs down so things don’t get too expensive.

“Where am I better off medically?” Chris says. “I would probably say Germany.”

In some ways, Chis Ertl’s coverage is better than his wife’s. He gets his choice of top doctors — the chief of medicine, if he wants. If he goes into the hospital, he gets a private room. When he goes to the doctor, he gets a free cup of coffee and goes to the head of the line. All this embarrasses him — and annoys Nicole.

“When he goes to the doctor, he has a lot more service,” she complains.

Germans really hate any hint of unfairness in health care. The fundamental idea is that everybody must be covered and, preferably, everybody should get equal treatment. So the fact that 10 percent or so can buy some perks is an irritant — something Germans complain about but manage to put up with.

But it’s unthinkable that 48 million people wouldn’t have health insurance at all — the situation in America. As an American, Chris thinks that’s shameful. “It’s terrible,” he says. “It’s unbelievable. It shouldn’t happen.”

Germans, he says, would never tolerate that. And their system has been working pretty well for 125 years.

Radio piece produced by Jane Greenhalgh.

The Brilliant Landlord

30 Mar

Whew, these past few days have been busy. Between celebrating my birthday with friends and family, prepping for the move, and the usual shenanigans with my bestie, I haven’t had much time for sharing interesting articles. My poor browser window is drowning in tabs from science websites.
I currently live down the street from a Planned Parenthood clinic, which I used to volunteer for often in college. I admire their dedication to public health and reproductive education, which are two of my biggest passions. And of course, it’s spring time, which means all the nasty protesters have come out to play. I used to pass by them often while walking to class. While I respect their right to protest, they do tend to put me in a less-than-cheery mood.
Here is an amazing story to lift your day. A man, whose family has owned land leased to a reproductive clinic for generations. He’s had to deal with protesters for literally his entire life, and as a result has developed an admirable amount of patience and restraint. However, when they took things too far by harassing his little girl at school and calling his home at all hours, he took action in a very creative way, and started a movement.

Payback Is a Bitch for Abortion Clinic Protestors, Thanks to a Brilliant Landlord

by Cassie Murdock of Jezebel

Todd Stave has the unenviable position of being the landlord of a building in Germantown, Maryland, which he leases to an abortion provider called Reproductive Health Services Clinic. So he knows a little something about dealing patiently with anti-abortion protesters. But when they started calling him at home at all hours and harassing his family, he got fed up and came up with a very clever solution: Do unto others as they have been doing unto you.

Problems really began for Stave at the end of 2010, when he leased his building to LeRoy Carhart, one of the only doctors in the U.S. who openly acknowledges that he performs late-term abortions. As you can imagine, he’s a controversial man, and protesters come from far and wide. There is a constant group of them parked outside, praying and holding up signs, many of which have pictures of mangled fetuses. That’s pretty much a landlord’s nightmare, and yet Stave has a very calm attitude about it. He told Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post this week,

It’s their right. They are protected by the First Amendment. And outside the clinic is probably the most appropriate place for them to express their views.

If you’re wondering how Stave can remain so relaxed about the situation, he explains, “I’ve been a member of this fight since Roe v. Wade. Since I was 5 years old.” You see, the clinic used to belong to his father, and then his sister ran it. When he was younger, the office was firebombed, and protesters were often gathered outside his dad’s house. So he’s used to a certain level of harassment and he’ll tolerate it — but only up to a point. And recently, the usually calm, cool, and collected Stave was pushed to his limit.

It’s common practice for anti-abortion protesters to disseminate doctors’ personal information and urge people to harass them—and it can clearly go far beyond that, as with the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. LeRoy Carhart, who’s now in Stave’s clinic, had his Nebraska farm burned to the ground back in 1991. But protesters in Maryland figured out they could start targeting Stave for owning the clinic’s property. He was largely unfazed by this campaign, until last fall when they took it too far. On his daughter’s first day in middle school, a large group of people protested outside her school, and then they showed up again for back-to-school night. They were naturally carrying signs with his name and contact info and those nasty pictures of fetuses.

Stave was furious, and then it got even worse. Dozens of the protestors began calling him at home, around the clock. His friends wanted to help him fight back; that’s when Stave had the brilliant idea of turning the tables on his tormentors. He began recording the names and numbers of the assholes who called, and then he gave the list of info to his friends and asked them to call these people back on his behalf. Shazam! And the really smart part was that when someone from Team Stave called, they always took the high road. He explains,

In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers. They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women’s rights.

Genius. While it was initially only a few friends doing the calling, the group quickly expanded. Soon, he was up to having 1,000 callers at his disposal. And they got crafty too. They’d look up information on the people who’d placed unwanted calls to Stave, and then when they called, they’d drop the names of the person’s children or their school into the conversation. They’d also, said Stave, “tell them that we bless their home on such and such street,” and then name their address. Are you getting shivers up you’re spine yet? Stave’s calling force became so powerful that sometimes he was able to hammer an unwanted caller with up to 5,000 calls in return. Looks like two can play at this game, stalkers.

Stave’s approach was so appealing that he was flooded with people from all over wanting to help. So he organized Voice of Choice, which now has about 3,000 volunteers. They don’t just fight back for Stave anymore. They’ll make calls on behalf of whoever is being bullied by anti-abortion protesters, whether it’s a doctor or a landlord or their family.

When asked if he thought this method of payback was harsh, Stave said no: “We gave them back what they gave us.” Actually, not even. You gave back a mild, family-friendly version of what they gave to you. You proved to them that you know where they live and who their children are, but you didn’t show up at their homes and schools and threaten them. You didn’t come onto their lawn with posters detailing terrible imaginary things that they’ve done. You’re serving up Revenge Lite™: Tastes great, less killing.

What’s more, Stave is strict about who Voice of Choice will make calls for. If it’s just run-of-the-mill protests outside clinics, he won’t help them because he believes in people’s First Amendment right to be out there saying what’s on their mind. Protestors must be personally harassing doctors or landlords in order for Stave to step in. If only abortion opponents had the same respect for people doing what they were allowed by law to do. Ahem.

So this is the part where the evil bullies who’ve plagued him (and others) at all hours of the day or night learn their lesson after having a taste of their own medicine, right? Yep, yep. They all realized they were being horrible, and now every anti-abortion protester is treating their pro-choice opponents with the utmost respect. HA. No. Actually this is the part in the story where it gets much worse. Ready?

Since Voice of Choice has been such a success, Stave was honored by NARAL in California last week. Knowing that he was going to be out of town receiving the award, his personal band of haters chose that moment to canvass his neighborhood with fliers that had a photo of Stave in a Nazi uniform, photos of Holocaust victims, and bloody fetuses. [Pause for a brief rage-stroke intermission.] Of course, the fliers had Stave’s contact information—and all of the phone numbers and addresses for other members of his family.

This goes without saying but, nevertheless: This is so incredibly fucked up. First of all, the guy owns a building, not a concentration camp. Second of all, what kind of person picks up a flier like that and thinks, “I need to get in touch with this Nazi!” God help us all.

Obviously Stave’s daughter and all of his neighbors saw the fliers, but the contact information for Stave’s family members must have been spread around. Because on Monday an abortion protestor showed up at the dental office owned by Stave’s brother-in-law and began doing his abortion-protestor routine outside. That’s such a great idea — I’m sure the random patient walking in for a cleaning is totally going to make the connection that the dentist’s brother-in-law owns a building where there’s an abortion clinic, and therefore abortion is wrong. At this point, Stave was back in town, so he went over to confront the protestor. And when he got there, the creep said, “How was your trip to San Francisco?” Deep inhale, slow exhale.

It is amazing that people like Stave have fortitude to stand up to psychos like this coming at them from every direction, but thank heavens they do, because, honestly, the thought that these protesters get away with so much is sickening. It’s hard to know where these nutcases will end when it comes to making Stave’s life a living hell—but it’s probably not going to get any better now that he’s getting more and more national media attention.

At least we know he’s got plenty of backup from Voice of Choice. The worse these people get, the longer VoC can keep them on the phone, telling them all about the many “blessings and prayers” they’re sending to their home addresses and to the locations of their children’s daycare centers. Then everyone will be so busy making and receiving calls that they’ll have less time to spend protesting outside clinics. And maybe in the future, we’ll get to a magical place where both sides are talking to each other 100 percent of the time, and a woman will be able to walk right up to the front door of an abortion clinic without being harassed—because everyone will be so busy talking on the phone to their enemies to notice or care what she’s choosing to do with her body.

A clinic’s landlord turns the tables on anti-abortion protesters [Washington Post]

Knit A Congressman A Uterus

21 Mar

With the war on women’s right waging strongly, the fine folks over at Jezebel came up with this brilliant idea. I absolutely love it, and want to learn how to knit or crochet a uterus. I would give mine a dapper monocle, a sweet smile, and a tiny adorable butcher knife, so that Congress will know that if you mess with my uterus, my fancy fancy lady parts WILL CUT YOU!!!

Knit a Uterus to Donate to a Congressman in Need

Remember when we decided that Rick Santorum needed a uterus of his very own so he’d leave ours alone? Well, now there’s a similar idea being proposed for the members of Congress across this great land who seem so insistent on getting all up in our lady parts since they’re jealous they don’t have any of their own. So how exactly are we going to make that happen, since we can’t, you know, give them actual uteruses? Enter Government Free VJJ, a project which aims to have have ladies knit or crochet lovely versions of uteruses (plus cervixes and vulvas) and mail them to their representatives.

If you’ve got some spare time and know how to knit or crochet, pick one of these patterns (or devise your own), fill out this form so they can keep track of who’s getting what, and then mail off the finished product to the statesman of your choice. It might not end the war on women, but at least it will give our beloved representatives something soft to cuddle when they have nightmares about slut-demons and whore-monsters taking over the world with our birth-control riddled godzilla-sized vaginas.

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Click here to find a variety of kick-ass uterus patterns.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Recut.

13 Mar

A few days ago I posted the video of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s address to  Senate. Here is an absolutely beautiful recut of that speech, which took the best clips of his speech and put it to beautiful music and historic clips. May these 5 minutes brighten your day. Enjoy.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Address to Senate

10 Mar

You can also read the speech at the Hayden Planetarium website.

End Of Life Decisions

9 Mar

The following was written by Kristian Foden-Vencil and presented by NPR’s health blog Shots. Click the headline if you wish to read the original article, as well as listen to an audio version of the story. I consider this to be one of the most important issues in American health care today, especially with our aging population.

Oregon Emphasizes Choices At The End Of Life

It turns out Americans facing death want something they also want in life: choice.

two-page form created in Oregon is providing insight into how people want to be cared for at the end of their lives. And the so-called POLST form — short for Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment — offers far more detailed options than a simple “do not resuscitate” directive does.

Terri Schmidt, an emergency room doctor at Oregon Health and Science University, remembers the day an elderly man with congestive heart failure came into the hospital from a nursing home. The man didn’t have a form, so, by law, Schmidt had to provide all the medical care possible.

“I intubated the man. I did very aggressive things. It didn’t feel right at the time,” says Schmidt. “There was just this sense in my mind that this is a 92-year-old very elderly person with bad heart failure. And about 15 minutes later, when I was able to get a hold of the family, they said, ‘You did what? We talked about this! He didn’t want it. We had a big conversation in his room about a week ago.’ ”

That’s a situation Helen Hobbs, 93, is looking to prevent. She has filled out a form, and her doctor signed it, so it’s legally enforceable.

She likes having different options. “I did want antibiotics in case of infection,” says Hobbs, who lives in an assisted living facility in Lake Oswego. “I don’t want CPR if I’m in cardiac arrest. I don’t want to be tied down with tubes. You know, there’s no point in prolonging it.”

Administrators at her senior residence advised Hobbs to keep her POLST form in a plastic tube in her freezer, so EMTs will know where to find it. Other nursing homes tell residents to keep their forms under the sink or on the fridge. It’s not exactly a perfect system.

Oregon started using the POLST form widely in the mid-1990s. All told, 14 states have adopted it, and 20 more are considering it.

Since 2009, the forms in Oregon have been entered into a statewide database. Doctors there can go online to see whether a patient has one.

And the database is beginning to reveal some interesting information about people’s choices, according to Dr. Susan Tolle of the Oregon Center for Ethics in Health Care. “We have really learned that this is not a black and white process,” Tolle says. “Less than 10 percent of people wanted to refuse all treatment. A majority want some things and not other things.”

Tolle avoids the topic of whether these detailed end-of-life instructions save money. She’s wary of starting another debate about death panels. But the database has allowed the state to quantify the policy by some measures.

“What we found was that if people marked ‘comfort measures only’ and ‘do not resuscitate’ and did not want to go back to the hospital, there was a 67 percent reduction in life-sustaining treatments, primarily hospitalization and emergency room visits,” says Tolle.

Christian Brugger is a professor of moral theology at the Saint John Vianney Seminary in Denver. He wants to make sure the elderly do not feel like they have to have one of these forms.

“I’ve heard often that elderly patients can feel pressured by the medical community or by their family not to be a burden,” says Brugger. “I think those kinds of pressures are very hard to calculate. And we want to be very careful that we don’t put those kinds of pressures on the elderly.”

Brugger says giving someone a durable power of attorney is a better solution to this delicate issue.

This story by Kristian Foden-Vencil is part of a reporting partnership that includes Oregon Public Broadcasting, NPR and Kaiser Health News.