the worst kind of “pussy policing” from the Washington Post

Ah, women. You know how it is: if we’d just tone it down a little, be more respectful, less emotional, less colorful, less pink, then men would take us seriously. If we just didn’t wear that short skirt, if we wore that longer skirt – but not that long a skirt – we wouldn’t be raped. If we just wore enough makeup to not be wearing makeup, if we just were clear about our interests in guys but not so clear to be sluts…

If we just lived under a constant set of rules that are ever-shifting the target, but boil down to the same thing: if we just twisted ourselves into the way men see other men, they’d treat us with respect.

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak is the latest accuser in this salvo of women-not-doing-it-right: c’mon, ladies, why are you wearing pink cat ear hats to a march? That’s so frivolous! How can you expect anyone to take you seriously like that! You want to be taken seriously, don’t you?

Dvorak’s afraid that pink pussy ears are too fun, too distracting – after all, media took a photo, once, of a mohawk’d family at a climate change protest, and now that’s what we all thing of when we think of climate change. What hockey sticks? Michael who?1

But this is the norm, right? Dvorak’s just reiterating a constant social message about what women need to do and take care of. We have to be careful that women’s bodies and what they do with those bodies don’t distract men from The Important Things. Women should be careful that their actions can’t be misinterpreted, at any time; we wouldn’t want a photographer taking a picture of a few women wearing pink pussy ear hats and think this was just some kind of fun get-together for knitting enthusiasts!

It’s not too many steps over from making sure you dress the right way so men don’t misunderstand your intent in a bar, is it?

Because ultimately, the messaging is being placed on women. It’s not up to men or journalists or historians to make sure they understand the message; nope, women must properly convey their intent and any error in inference is their fault, and no one else.

Hedwig Reicher as Columbia, and other suffrage pageant participants. Guess dressing up is okay if it’s called a pageant? (Picture via Library of Congress.)

Possibly the funniest thing about the whole piece, in that sort of “historical revisionism is funny when people try to use the past to guilt us in the present” kind of way, is Dvorak’s insistence that the suffragettes protested properly:

Protests are successful and effective when they have a clear message, a clear mission. That’s part of what made the 1913 march by the suffragettes seeking the right to vote so memorable

Yes. Those suffragettes. They never had any fun in their rallies.

They never did anything unseemly.

They were never, ack, violent.

Why, they just nicely asked for the right to vote, and since they were so rational and level-headed about it, they just got it! Isn’t that a nice historical fiction we can all learn from?

NNSA and the Art of Reading Political Spin

Gizmodo’s got an alarming story up, at least if you consider unattended nuclear stockpiles and a’splodey bomb photos alarming:

According to an official within the Department of Energy, this past Friday, the President-elect’s team instructed the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration and his deputy to clean out their desks when Trump takes office on January 20th.

Oh. Well. I mean, it’s just the National Nuclear Security Administration. Nothing to see here, they don’t do anything important like maintain national security through the military application of nuclear science. They’re not responsible for the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing. They don’t work to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction. They definitely don’t provide the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion or respond to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Nope.

(Hint: yes, they do all of that.)

Thankfully, Defense One has stepped up and gotten someone from the NNSA to deny that Trump’s team has asked both NNSA director Frank Klotz and his deputy, Madelyn Creedon, to step down on Jan 20! Why, not at all. In fact, the official assures us that

There have been no discussions between the president-elect’s transition team and any of NNSA’s political appointees on extending their public service past Jan. 20.

…oh.

See, here’s the thing. It might sound, on the surface, like Gizmodo and Defense One are saying two separate things, but they’re not. Oh sure, it’s possible that there were no literal marching orders given to Klotz, Creedon, and other appointed staff… but it’s just as likely someone did clarify that they needed to have their desks cleared and goodbyes said by noon, January 20th. See, Klotz, Creedon, and about 3,000 other government employees are appointed. They don’t have to be dismissed; by tradition (and in some cases law), all non-termed political appointees would have submitted their resignations some time after the election, effective immediately on swearing in of a new president.2 Now traditionally, what happens is that the sitting president tells all agencies that there is a hiring freeze and gives all appointees their resignation deadline; Obama’s was December 7th. The incoming presidential team then offers extensions to the majority of appointees, because it takes time to appoint and confirm some 850 high level/cabinet members of the government (not to mention the other 2,000+ lower level appointees), and it’s nice to have people around to, you know, run things.

That didn’t happen this time.

Gizmodo is taking it as active malice: Trump’s seeking out and firing people. The NNSA is downplaying this: no, no, they weren’t fired or removed…. it’s just that their service ends January 20th and unlike every other time ever, it’s not being extended, nor is the service of all the appointed folks under them!

It’s the same story, different spin, same result. Functionally speaking, right now, as of noon January 20th, the NNSA won’t have appointed leadership – which means that, as of noon January 20th, NNSA will be hamstrung. As Gizmodo explains, the career civil servants and scientists (that is, people hired rather than appointed) will continue doing their job, but they won’t have an advocate to secure a budget from Congress and they won’t be able to tackle any new directives because:

the legislation authorizing the NNSA specifically prohibits non-NNSA officials from managing NNSA employees—agency staffers are only allowed to take orders from Klotz and Creedon or their (nonexistent) replacements.

Given Trump’s bombastic and erratic statements regarding the US nuclear arsenal, this situation should concern everyone. It is not, as is so commonly said right now, normal.

Latkes and a Bit of Light

It’s been a rough week. I have been able to type that almost every day this year, and have it be accurate – more on that in another post – but nonetheless it’s true. Migraines, swollen hands, skin fitting not right, irritations to the touch, lack of sleep; it’s been the entire gauntlet of everything. So on Thursday night, pretty much the last thing I wanted to do was go to a latke party. I didn’t feel well, it was going to weather, there would be not only people but strangers. I finally ended up dragging myself out of the house, naturally compounding everything by guaranteeing we’d be late.

Not the most perfect set-up in the world for an introvert, but it was and I’d committed.

One of the weirder things about my current life is just how much time I spend around people in bioethics – either because I’ve gone to a conference or I’m judging something or I’m at a meeting or, yes, even just because I’m at a latke party. I’ve been struggling to deal with that now, for years. Who am I? How do I introduce myself? Do I share The Story? How do I explain what I know and why I know it, but also why I’m not “using it” in any way most folks would consider measurable or meaningful?

For the last few years, I’ve stuck with enigma – the sort of half smile and promise to tell the details later, over a drink, bribe me with chocolate – or taking a deep breath and dumping it all out and making sure it’s clear I don’t want to talk about it, thanks. A few people have gotten the full measured story over a conversation, but not many.

It’s weird. It’s so defining. It was almost a decade ago, but it still looms large over life. It always will, as long as I’m tangental to the field, working in or near it, married to a rising star.

For whatever reason, Thursday’s latke party was different. When it came up – who am I again, why do I know all this? I was able to address the situation conversationally, even cheekily. It ended up creating a lot of laughter, a lot of sympathy, and I think at least a small measure of respect. And it got me thinking about how we define ourselves, for ourself and for others.

I read an interview today with Mara Wilson; it was published back in April but for some reason landed in front of my eyes today. It might have been the best day, because I was already mulling similar things – how do you define yourself when it feels like everyone knows who you were, even if it’s not who you are? 2 Mara left acting for writing, and she talks a bit in this interviews (and others) about her long effort at distancing herself from acting, of asserting herself, not wanting to be associated with that image.

Well. I can relate to that.

I can also relate to this:

I’m always going to be associated with that image, and I might not want to be reduced to that image, but I’m always going to be associated with it. So I’m working on embracing it.


Ends of years are arbitrary times, picked out on calendars for reasons that don’t have a lot of meaning any more. I don’t tend to place much faith in them, or superstition, but it’s hard not to think that those words landed in front of me now, just when I needed to contemplate them in front of the blank slate of a new year.

I don’t know much, and the path isn’t terribly clear – on days when one foot in front of the other is hard physically, that doesn’t make things any easier – but I do know that I can embrace the things that define me, I can be witty and charming, I can catalogue beneficial things I learned. I can laugh. And that’s a start.

Another Kind of Fake News: Covert Marketing As Academic Research

Fake news and bad reporting (faithless journalism, perhaps) have been in the news pretty extensively since the election, and folks are trying to detangle trust, knowledge, and facts from fake news and click-bait headlines. One topic I haven’t seen addressed much is news around science articles – oh, I see the discussion of click-bait headlines and the flipflops of EGGS GOOD/BAD/WHO KNOWS. But what I don’t see so much of is a discussion of author affiliation.

For example, the Washington Post published a Wellness article about choline last week that caught my eye. There were an awful lot of claims being made about this supposed wonder-nutrient we don’t get enough of, and reading the original article seemed like a good idea. So I did.

Now, something that might not occur to folks is a normal part of reading academic articles for me: looking at author affiliations and disclosures for conflicts-of-interest. And in this case, it didn’t take long to find one. Sure, the first and corresponding author seemed okay on the surface (a professor of nutrition at George Mason), but the second author? Oh that second author.

That second author, a Victor Fulgoni the Third, is employed by Nutrition Impact, LLC. Who are they, you ask? Well hell, I didn’t know until I looked – but that’s the point. I looked. And I found:

Based in Battle Creek, Mich., USA, Nutrition Impact has helped one client successfully complete a new health claim petition (plant sterol esters and heart disease), helped another client successfully complete a Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (FDAMA) notification authorizing another new health claim (potassium and blood pressure/stroke), and helped a third client obtain a new nutrient content claim (choline).

Emphasis mine.

This, of course, calls the entire research paper regarding choline into question, because the job of the second of two authors was to make choline a noted and noticeable health claim (almost certainly a supplement company looking to goad consumers into purchases), and the Washington Post fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Is this fake news? Certainly not of the Facebook-style fake news generators, but it is a kind of fake news: it’s hiding a company agenda in the veneer of academic research, and thus eroding trust in both academic research and science/medical journalism.

A Quick Note to Senator Markey

I’m cranky. The water has been out at the house for almost 24 hours now; a water main broke just outside our apartment yesterday afternoon, and appears to be spreading through multiple city blocks, now. An historical building undergoing renovations has turned into a swimming pool, there are reports of streets buckling under the now-gushing water geysers, and my joking, yesterday, about a Hellmouth opening here suddenly seems a little more on the nose.

So I wasn’t in the best headspace to read that one of my Senators, Ed Markey, is not only supporting the 21st Century Cures Act, but is pushing for the additional “opioid crisis” addiction funding – with no thought to the harm that causes chronic pain patients, and the utterly asinine blindness to funding research into pain and other pain treatment modalities. So I jotted off a quick email, and wanted to share it here:

I am deeply disappointed that, with the 21st Century Cures Act, not only have you proudly pushed funding that supports the opioid panic (and publicized it), Senator – you are contributing to the stigma and difficulty in accessing health care patients with chronic pain face. Nowhere in any of this “omg opioid crisis” panic funding do we see what REALLY needs to happen: funding for research into chronic pain and other treatment modalities. You focus on addiction at the expense of patients in genuine pain, and you’re doing that because addiction makes a better media story than pain. While I have been surprised to learn of you – you are frequently overshadowed by Elizabeth Warren in the national media – I am now sad to say I’m disappointed in you, and beyond losing respect for your work, I question your ability to accurately and adequately represent constituents like me.

There are many other problems with the 21st Century Cures Act, which you can read about at Health Affairs (among other places, including Stat News, if you need a more local read), but in this measure, you are alienating constituents with chronic pain who, research shows, are both at low risk for addiction and are the most harmed by pushes like these. MA already has restrictive and difficult limitations to access that constrain and minimize the quality of life of disabled people. Additional funding and penalties towards abuse of illicit drugs (and conflating those with prescription drugs) harms everyone and helps no one.

I am disappointed, today, to call you my senator.