Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fun Impinging on Women's Work

The 9/17 issue of the Weekly Standard includes a diatribe by Matt Labash against corporate cultures incorporating Dilbert-esque enforced "fun." It's a length read (I printed it and took it on the subway) but among Labash's sarcasm and vitriol, I found some oblique references to women in the workplace that I think are worth noting.

The first is obvious sexism: Labash visits a "Funsultant" business (note: a "funsultant" is one who consults to bring "fun" to the office), and meets with the firm's Marketing Maven (her actual title) Jayla Boire. His discription of her follows:

I met one of their four principal partners for dinner--Jayla Boire. Her title is Marketing Maven (nobody in the company has a traditional title). She looks like a Marketing Maven too. She is bouncy, perky, tall, and blonde, with sculpted tan legs that start just above her ankles and end right below her clavicle. I wouldn't call them sexy--HR wouldn't approve--but they're fun to look at.

Very professional. I wonder if Boire has read this piece and knows that in addition to making fun of her work, Labash is also pasting her into the article as a piece of tasty meat. When he introduces her male colleagues, there is no description of them outside of their work. Sexism at its best in journalism.

The other part that really caught my eye was how, in creating a "Fun Department" at AstraZeneca--at the expense of women's ability to pump breast milk at work:

Dave later tells me that at AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company, the Fun Department has even taken over the company's seldom-used lactation room, dressed it up as a doctor's office complete with a doctor character and a gum-cracking assistant, and wrote "prescriptions to play" while treating people "for terminal seriousness."

I wonder how women at AstraZeneca now store breast milk while on the job. Obviously, the corporate need to inject fun into the work culture overrides a nursing mother's need to pump milk. I'd bet my life this was a decision made by a man.

If you check my booklist, you know I've been reading Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men--And What to Do About It by Evelyn Murphy. The book spends a lot of time outlining the conditions and discriminations women face and how it affects their paychecks. I can see this one fitting right into the book. A woman needs to pump breast milk, the provided facility is taken away, she is told she can't do it at her desk and no other space is provided, and she ends up either in pain from blocked milk ducts or quitting so she can actually nurse. Really, if you're a woman in the working world, you should read this book. The descriptions of working conditions that cause women to quit and lose pay-benefiting positions/seniority makes my blood boil.

It's enough to make a working woman scream.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Obesity Is Not Contagious

Like most people, I was mildly disturbed by the headlines last month proclaiming the results of a study that claimed that people with overweight friends tended to become overweight over time. Like a lemming, I mentally thought over the size of my friends, and then shook my head. I know my weight gain is based in a bad reaction to a medication. It has nothing to do with how much my friends weigh.

So I was pleased to run across an article helping to put the results in context. I'm not going to say "debunk," although that's close. An excerpt:

On what firm foundation of scientific evidence are they basing this almost comical, yet somehow still unnerving claim? In fact, it is based on an observational study of some 2300 people from the "offspring cohort" (siblings) of the original Framingham Study. The researchers looked at the body mass indices of individuals that these cohort offspring indicated on their original administrative tracking sheets for the Framingham study as people they would recommend to contact (otherwise known as friends and families) to help facilitate follow up of the study. They then compared BMI changes measured in these individuals during numerous three year periods between 1971 and 2003 with BMI changes of the people in the cohort. What were the startling findings? An individual's chances of becoming obese were 57% greater if they had a friend who became obese over a certain period of time. And what was the authors' conclusion?

"It's not that obese or non-obese people simply find other similar people to hang out with, rather, there is a direct causal relationship".

How does one conclude a direct causal relationship from an observational study? Bald men are more likely than men with a full head of hair to have a heart attack. Can we conclude from this that they should buy a toupee or begin using Rogaine lotion to lower their risk? And what about that little nasty episode with hormone replacement therapy just a few years ago? Remember when women were told that since there was much more heart disease observed after menopause the reason must be the loss of hormones - and that therefore hormone replacement therapy must be the answer? Oops, wrong again. The bottom line is that what you get from observational studies like this one are hypotheses which then must be validated by research that actually implements experimental interventions to prove or disprove them.
I wish I had been clever enough to notice the observational setup of the "experiment" when reading the original write-up. After all, I spent that whole semester in Research Methods in graduate school.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sayonara Al

Few things could make me cheerier than this:

Embattled Attorney General Resigns

Published: August 27, 2007

WACO, Tex., Aug. 27 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not announced immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

Mr. Bush has not yet chosen a replacement but will not leave the position open long, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the resignation had not yet been made public.

Mr. Bush had repeatedly stood by Mr. Gonzales, an old friend and colleague from Texas, even as Mr. Gonzales faced increasing scrutiny for his leadership of the Justice Department, over issues including his role in the dismissals of nine United States attorneys late last year and whether he testified truthfully about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

Earlier this month, at a news conference, Mr. Bush dismissed accusations that Mr. Gonzales had had stonewalled or misled a congressional inquiry. "We’re watching a political exercise," Mr. Bush said. "I mean, this is a man who has testified, he’s sent thousands of papers up there. There’s no proof of wrong."

Mr. Gonzales’s resignation is the latest in a series of high-level departures that has reshaped the end of Mr. Bush’s second term. Karl Rove, another of Mr. Bush’s close circle of aides from Texas, stepped down two weeks ago.

The official who disclosed the resignation today said that the decision was Mr. Gonzales’s and that the president accepted it grudgingly. At the same time, the official acknowledged that the turmoil over Mr. Gonzales had made his continuing as attorney general difficult.

"The unfair treatment that he’s been on the receiving end of has been a distraction for the department," the official said.

Hurrah! And by the way, Mr. President, there's plenty of wrong that's been done. When you say "political exercise," I assume you're talking about Mr. Gonzales following your orders to politicize the Department of Justice to skew towards neo-conservative Republicans. Your administration is rotten to the core, it's falling apart, and you know what? I don't believe in your God who tells you how to run your presidency, but I sure hope he's got a special place for you when you die, so you can experience some of the misery you've inflicted on the citizens of the United States (not to mention what you've done to the Iraqis).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Who Needs Health Care When We Have Emergency Rooms?

In light of Mr. Bush's remarks regarding health care access and local emergency rooms (obviously, he's never sat in one with a non-life threatening case and tried to get help in under an hour), I could only roll my eyes in response to this headline:

Rules May Limit Health Program Aiding Children

The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.

Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a monthlong Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were intended to return the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.

(emphasis mine)

I'm angry about this, because obviously, the states are trying to provide health care for children. And why would we want to extend any help to the middle class, or rather, the people who are desperately trying to cling to middle class standing? The Bush Administration is almost devoted to wiping out the middle class and recreating the Old Europe standard of the Three Estates (The Aristocracy, the Clergy, and the Peasants).

When I continued reading and looked at the standards for what qualified as "low-income" and therefore eligible for CHIP coverage, and what qualified as "middle-income" and not eligible, I was almost appalled. Actually, strike that, I was definitely appalled.

The poverty level for a family of four is set by the federal government at $20,650 in annual income. Many states have received federal permission to cover children with family incomes exceeding twice the poverty level — $41,300 for a family of four. In New York, which covers children up to 250 percent of the poverty level, the Legislature has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent— $82,600 for a family of four — but the change is subject to federal approval.

My salary is in the "twice the poverty level" range, and I have to say, I probably couldn't survive on that salary alone, let alone try to cover a family of four on that. Has the federal government priced housing in New England metro areas lately? When you're done paying for the roof over your head, and the utilities to keep warm (including, say, oil, hrmph!) how on earth do you bundle health care in with food, gas (!!), clothes, etc. Health insurance eats a significant portion of your "leftover" income. It's simply untenable.

I also like the bit about ensuring that CHIP doesn't replace private health care coverage. That's they whole point: privatization. Allow insurance companies to keep premiums high and deny coverage through privatization. Because the point of health insurance is to make corporations rich, not provide chemotherapy to cancer patients or anti-depressants to depression patients or anything.

It's a good thing that I work somewhere with good health insurance coverage. Because this administration makes me sick.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Buy American

As any casual reader of mine should know, I'm a big fan of the New York Times. But today's editorial on Chinese goods sparked a disagreement between us.

Chinese goods have been found in the past year to be full of dangers, from tainted or counterfeit medical supplies and drugs to lead paint on toys and baby bibs. The answer to this problem is to bring back manufacturing the United States. Here, there are better regulations on safety standards, but more importantly, it would keep more jobs in the United States and help us become much more self-sufficient and reduce our trade debt. Today's editorial argues:

It is definitely not in America’s interest — economic, political or strategic — to erect a barricade against Chinese imports, which could spark a mutually destructive trade war. American businesses and the Bush administration must send a clear message to Beijing that it has to clean up its act or its export-led boom will falter.

What China needs is an effective and transparent regulatory system to enforce product safety standards. The United States and other countries can help with technical advice and warnings about what would happen if Beijing refuses to take it. But the dangers are too immediate to wait.

Right now it is the clear responsibility of companies that import Chinese products to guarantee their safety, and American regulators have to ensure they do it adequately. Neither is doing the job right now.

I don't agree at all. There's no way the Bush Administration could or would enforce safety standards on Chinese companies. The country is corrupt, and completely polluted, both in terms of its people and the environment) from its lack of regulations. The air in Beijing is thick with smog, and due to lack of regulations in blood banks, AIDS is spreading, particularly in rural areas.

Why are we doing so much business with China? To save money? How much is Mattel losing in its second recall of millions of toys in a month? What's the cost of the lives that are lost over here because of tainted medical supplies? How much does our government pay out to cover the unemployed whose jobs have vanished overseas?

The right action here is to bring our jobs, products, and safety regulations back into our own country. We should clean up our own mess.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Leading Questions

On December 17, 2006, Eastern Michigan University freshman Laura Dickinson was found in her room, raped and stabbed to death.

Under the Clery Act, the university was legally obligated to tell the campus, and to post the crime in its annual survey of campus activity. While Ms. Dickinson's death was, from the first, obviously foul play, it was put out that her death was due to "natural causes," and it was not until the February 2007 arrest of Orange Amir Taylor III that the true nature of her death was made known to the public--and her family.

Now the President, Vice President of Student Affairs, and Director of Campus Police are being fired.

So, if someone dies under suspicious circumstances, and the situation is covered up, information is misconstrued, and it is discovered that high ranking officials are lying, at EMU, they are taken out of office.

This rational form of thinking apparently does not apply to the White House.

Monday, July 2, 2007

You Don't Have Mail

Sometimes I am absolutely astounded by the amount of email people get. Now that I have access to my boss' email, the sight of 1500+ emails unread makes me twitch. And then I read this, Nora Ephron's "The Six Stages of Email":

Stage One: Infatuation
I just got e-mail! I can’t believe it! It’s so great! Here’s my handle. Write me! Who said letter writing was dead? Were they ever wrong! I’m writing letters like crazy for the first time in years. I come home and ignore all my loved ones and go straight to the computer to make contact with total strangers. And how great is AOL? It’s so easy. It’s so friendly. It’s a community. Wheeeee! I’ve got mail!
Stage Two: Clarification
O.K., I’m starting to understand — e-mail isn’t letter-writing at all, it’s something else entirely. It was just invented, it was just born and overnight it turns out to have a form and a set of rules and a language all its own. Not since the printing press. Not since television. It’s revolutionary. It’s life-altering. It’s shorthand. Cut to the chase. Get to the point.
And it saves so much time. It takes five seconds to accomplish in an e-mail message something that takes five minutes on the telephone. The phone requires you to converse, to say things like hello and goodbye, to pretend to some semblance of interest in the person on the other end of the line. Worst of all, the phone occasionally forces you to make actual plans with the people you talk to — to suggest lunch or dinner — even if you have no desire whatsoever to see them. No danger of that with e-mail.
E-mail is a whole new way of being friends with people: intimate but not, chatty but not, communicative but not; in short, friends but not. What a breakthrough. How did we ever live without it? I have more to say on this subject, but I have to answer an Instant Message from someone I almost know.
Stage Three: Confusion
I have done nothing to deserve any of this:
Viagra!!!!! Best Web source for Vioxx. Spend a week in Cancún. Have a rich beautiful lawn. Astrid would like to be added as one of your friends. XXXXXXXVideos. Add three inches to the length of your penis. The Democratic National Committee needs you. Virus Alert. FW: This will make you laugh. FW: This is funny. FW: This is hilarious. FW: Grapes and raisins toxic for dogs. FW: Gabriel García Márquez’s Final Farewell. FW: Kurt Vonnegut’s Commencement Address. FW: The Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. AOL Member: We value your opinion. A message from Hillary Clinton. Find low mortgage payments, Nora. Nora, it’s your time to shine. Need to fight off bills, Nora? Yvette would like to be added as one of your friends. You have failed to establish a full connection to AOL.
Stage Four: Disenchantment
Help! I’m drowning. I have 112 unanswered e-mail messages. I’m a writer — imagine how many unanswered messages I would have if I had a real job. Imagine how much writing I could do if I didn’t have to answer all this e-mail. My eyes are dim. I have a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I have a galloping case of attention deficit disorder because every time I start to write something, the e-mail icon starts bobbing up and down and I’m compelled to check whether anything good or interesting has arrived. It hasn’t. Still, it might, any second now. And yes it’s true — I can do in a few seconds with e-mail what would take much longer on the phone, but most of my messages are from people who don’t have my phone number and would never call me in the first place. In the brief time it took me to write this paragraph, three more messages arrived. Now I have 115 unanswered messages. Strike that: 116.

Stage Five: Accommodation
Yes. No. No :). No :(. Can’t. No way. Maybe. Doubtful. Sorry. So Sorry. Thanks. No thanks. Not my thing. You must be kidding. Out of town. O.O.T. Try me in a month. Try me in the fall. Try me in a year. can now be reached at
Stage Six: Death
Call me.
Yes it's funny. But still, I can't help noticing that I'm stuck in stage two, still waiting for more people to think I'm cool and actually email me. Maybe I should become a writer, and then more people would email me. hah.