Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Not a form of identification..

That's actually what it says on your Social Security card. It was never meant to be carried around and flashed as proof of identity or even your SSN.

And yet, there I was at the Department of Public Safety and they flat out refused to give me a drivers license because I didn't have my social security card. I told hem how ridiculous this was, that I should be more than fine with my VA driver's license, my current US passport and my official state issued birth certificate, not to even mention my state employee photo i.d. But, no, they needed the freakin' card, or a letter from the Social Security Administration with my name and SSN on it. Cripes!! Don't they know about identity theft??? Don't they know that Texas has the second highest rate of identity theft (after Arizona) and that actually carrying around a social security card puts you at incredible risk.

I tell the state police officers how ridiculous it is to require an actual social security since anyone with any decent computer skills could probably create one. (Get real, man, my freshman year of college every dorm was making a different state driver's license.) Well, they tell, we've been trained to identify counterfeits. Just for the record, my card was issued in 1970, federal laws never suggested that social security cards employ anti-counterfeiting measures until 1983.(I did my research.) I'm saying my original card could easily be recreated on photo shop and no one would be the wiser. And it's not like they're going to put my SSN on the TX license thereby creating an i.d. with the SSN and my photo. It became illegal to put SSNs on driver's licenses in 2004. (more research)

My social security card, for the record is safely filed in a fire safe at my parents house at the other side of the country. After leaving the driver licensing place following a full blown hissy fit, I called my mother to suggest that perhaps we should have just let Mexico keep Texas. It would have worked out better for everyone!!

And please!! They're on a state server on the state computer system. They have access to the same ridiculous AccessHR (taking the Human out of Human Resources) so they could have simply had me log into the system to verify my social security number since we had already established that I was in fact a state employee. And what's the point of verifying my SSN if they're not going to trust their own freakin' databases and their own employee verification process???

Have I mentioned that I hate meaningless illogical rules that are enforced just because they exist not because they make any sense at all? The social security card is undoubtedly about documented vs. undocumented immigrants, that's what it was about in Virginia ten years ago. But anyone who has ever gotten a constitutional primer knows that being born in the U.S. makes you an automatic citizen (exhibit A: birth certificate) and well, generally, the passport only goes to citizens as well. And since these guys are so well trained to identify fraudulent documents, they shouldn't have any issue verifying the authenticity of my documents. No? Whatever.

My father is coming to visit next week, so he dug out my social security card to bring with him so that I could go back to the stupid Public Safety place. I so wish I could bring my father with me when I go back, but I'll be going directly from work. You have to understand that while my father is really a big old teddy bear, he had this ability to convey a very severe level of intimidation just by crossing his arms across his chest and looking stern. It can be incredibly useful at times.

What on earth made me think I could get my new driver's license on the first try anyway??? And on a day that I happened to have gotten my hair cut during my lunch hour (complete coincidence ~ I had no idea what evening the place was open late when I scheduled the hair appointment 6 weeks ago.) My sister's theory is that they took one look at my hair and decided there was no way they were going to take a driver's license photo when I was having a good hair day, so they just had to come up with some road block.

And here's the real gem. Once you jump through all their silly hoops, they don't actually give you a driver's license. They give you a receipt (extremely bogus and unofficial looking, I might add) and tell you that you'll receive you license in the mail in the next three weeks. WTF??? Do they have only one laminater in the whole state??? So, basically, I will be traveling less that a week after I get this crap taken care of ~ and just for fun, when they ask for photo i.d., I'm going to present them with the stupid receipt, at least in the TX airports. It will be a quiet form of rebellion mocking the state system. (I will, of course, also have my passport, but I want to see how they react to the freakin' receipt first!!)

You've got to be freakin' kidding me!

In Boston, Church Leaders Offer Atonement for Abuse

Do they really seriously think they are getting atonement from anyone?? This is nothing more than Cardinal O'Malley's 2006 tour of the parishes destroyed by pedophiles ~ the ones they know about anyway or maybe just the ones they're sharing their knowledge of. They never have released a list.

I have to agree with the protesters ~ too little, too late. It's just a band aid over a bullet hole. If they wanted to help the victims, help the community and really accept responsibility to gain atonement, they would take down the walls of secrecy. They would name the predators; they would excommunicate them. They would support the prosecution of them. They would stand fully behind the victims and try to help them regain all they had lost at the hands of the church.

My sister and I have always had strangely good instincts about people. There were some questionable teachers where we went to high school (one was later arrested), but we knew to stay away from them. And last Christmas when I was seated next to an unaccompanied minor and the 50 something guy on her other just seemed a little to attentive to her. (He hadn't even looked up when I sat down.) I had him pegged before I noticed that he was hiding an erection under his paperback and by that time I had made it clear that I was going to be occupying every moment of the little girl's time on that flight. Now that my sister has a child, we discuss the people in the neighborhood and who just doesn't seem right, like the retired school teacher up the street who is always telling her she doesn't need to worry about him because he's great with kids. It's actually kind of a joke between us about the pedophile instinct. How do know? We grew up in the Boston Archdiocese.

But back to the great atonement of 2006 and the prayer for God's forgiveness. Let's see it for what it really is. A bankrupt Catholic Diocese with ever decreasing donations making a major publicity play for the heart strings of those not personally affected by the abuse.

Get real, the victims are telling them to take their atonement and go to Hell.

Memorial Day..... And why I hate it...

Two words. Marching. Band.

We used to do three different parades on Memorial Day. We had these horrid all weather wool (meaning equally inappropriate for all weather) royal blue uniforms. You'd sweat under them through summer and early fall and freeze in them in post season football. Now if you know anything about marching band uniforms from 30 years ago, this will all sound familiar. They're designed to fit basically no one. Okay, so maybe 3 or 4 guys in the brass section actually have well fitting uniforms, but the rest of the band, forget about it. There were pants with this weirdly adjustable waist, that were in no way created to fit a girl who had even begun puberty, a blazer, a overlay with the shoulder flaps and a plumed hat to top it all off. Your uniform wasn't even designed to fit you ~ it had been purchased initially for someone who graduated 5 or 6 years earlier and then passed down, class to class, frequently with some very odd tailoring having taken place in the length of the pants or the length of the sleeves.

On Memorial Day, we would all wear shorts and tee shirts under our uniforms and whip the uniforms off as quickly as possible between parades to give our bodies the opportunity to return to a normal body temperature.

Now, it wasn't the parades that were killer, it was the standing at attention at the end of the parade for the Memorial Day speeches that was killer. People would pass out. You could count on someone from the flute section to go first, then someone from the colorguard, eventually the brass section would lose someone and then some poor soul would drop under the weight of a drum set. It was the middle parade in Hudson that killed us. They seemed to let every veteran have the opportunity to say his peace on that one day of the year.

There were mishaps. There was the year at our home parade (first parade of the day) when my sister, the drum major, gave the wrong signal, and instead of playing a nice Sousa march as we headed into the cemetery, the band broke into Another Bites the Dust. I believe that year was the last year we used contemporary music in the parade. Thinking back, it was a rather odd cemetery ~ not a whole lot of space and most of the parade had to wait outside. It was one of the oldest cemeteries in town and I doubt if there were even WWI vets buried there. It was probably strictly a Revolutionary War veterans cemetery.

Then there was the year we were going to cut back to just two parades. The band director called the city where our third parade was located and told them we couldn't attend because we had a scheduling conflict. So they rescheduled their parade, just for us. I don't really remember that parade very well ~ for any of the four years I marched in it. I must have been suffering from some degree of heat stroke by the time we got to it and was operating strictly on brain stem function.

But the best year was the one when some smart ass (probably in the brass section) started a drop pool. You didn't have to identify who would pass out, just guess the number. The band director put the kibosh on that one. He bet on zero and then brought all sorts of water and spray bottles to the parades, demanded that Hudson allow us to stand in the shade. Basically, as my sister pointed out, did what he should have been doing all along, but also cheated. He won the pool, but we continued to have water at every parade after that. We considered it a victory all around.

By my senior year we were getting new uniforms. Polyester this time, I believe. Still ill fitting ~ they wouldn't be band uniforms otherwise. By that time I was drum major and got to wear a skirt, the advantage of which was that it had not been designed for the male figure. We still froze in post season football and actually wished for a bad football team so we could avoid the post season. It wasn't the half time show that killed you, it was the four quarters of sitting on the metal bleachers waiting for a touchdown to play the Minnesota Fight Song (again, NO idea why that was our victory song!!), but I'm proud to say I learned to play it on trumpet for basketball season. (I was a state ranked oboe player.)

When I mentioned all the parade memories to my mother, she let out something between a groan and a sigh, announcing that she no longer attended parades. She had been to too many after all the years of girl scouts and marching band ~ as if! She didn't even have to march in them!!!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Clinging to Anger

There's something about anger that is hard to let go of. We all harbor our own petty grudges against the insignificant things that hinder our progress throughout life and then there are the big ones. The hardest ones to let go of is the anger you hold against yourself.

I am culturally, perhaps even genetically, programmed to hold a grudge. The Irish pass grudges from generation to generation, they cling to the same anger for centuries at a time. Just look at Northern Ireland. If you actually believe that has anything to do with religion, you need to read something by Pat Coogan. It's all about colonization, the taking of land and the forced starvation of generations. I actually went to Northern Ireland ~ Derry City, where Bloody Sunday occurred ~ and thought I could study the politics and history and not take a side. Perhaps if I were Italian?

What do I have to be so angry about? Let's see. There was my last boyfriend who I actually thought might be the guy. Seriously bad judgment on my part. Sure, he was in love with my mind, he lusted after my body, but he had very little use for me as a person. He was an arrogant, self centered, selfish jerk who felt no real obligation to be nice to me when he felt I was being clingy ~ for say, calling him to check in when I hadn't heard from him for a few days. And then there was the part where he lied to me. It wasn't until the relationship ended very badly that I realized he had lied. It was a small stupid insignificant lie that was so easily discovered that it was really ridiculous. But it got me thinking. As someone who has no talent for lying, I tend to think that there are people who lie and people who don't lie. If you lie about little things, chances are you're lying about bigger things as well. There is in fact no end to what you could be lying about. And that is how I find myself in the office of my OB/GYN asking that she just test me for everything, to be on the safe side. I'm angry at him for being the asshole that he is/was, but I'm more angry with myself for putting up with it and accepting it.

I'm angry that some moron in supply didn't know the difference between powder free and latex free and as a result I got super exposed to pure airborne latex particles and my allergy accelerated. I'm angry that I have to be so damn careful about everything I eat and that food service people are ridiculous enough to think they really need to use latex gloves as opposed to vinyl or plastic. I'm angry that I have to be the big party pooper in my office who asks the division director to ask the staff to stop decorating with latex balloons for every birthday, retirement, and secretary day. I'm angry that we as a culture are so enthralled with balloons in general ~ doens't anyone realize they can kill people??? I'm furious that I have to explain the concept of airborne exposure and anaphalaxis to the number of medical professionals that I do. I'm angry that I didn't get to see my grandmother the last two years of her life because the nursing home where she was living was one big latex stew. I'm angry that the first allergist I went to see after my really bad exposure (a native New Yorker who went to med school in Mexico ~ feel free to draw conclusions) failed to notice that I went into shock (even though his staff observed and measured the drop in body temperature and blood pressure) during my allergy test and actually had the nerve to write into my medical file that my allergy was at least partially psychosomatic.

Most of all, I'm angry that I lost the genetic lottery. Even with mental illness on both sides of the family, the risk of my parents having a child with a mental illness was 1 in 3. They only had two kids. We could have easily walked away clean. Instead, I will spend the rest of my life taking at least 6 to 8 pills a day. I will read all the fine print on the prescription plans and I will deal with behavioral health managed care (emphasis on managed). I will always have to come up with excuses as to why I have doctors' appointments at least once a month. I will have to be more careful about my stress levels and my sleep than other people, lest I risk an episode. I will always live with the knowledge that with absolute certainty, I will have another episode. I will also probably go off of my medication again one day, for reasons that I will never be able to explain. I'll then probably have to hit bottom before I can manage to get back on the meds ~ not a particularly happy way to do it. I will forever be the sick child in my family, the one my parents worry about too much and trust too little. There will never be a time when I will stop losing things to this disease.

So this is the anger I hang on to, the reason I want to slap anyone who says to me "at least you have your health." You have no freakin' idea. Will I ever let go? Let's see, does my mother still hold a grudge against the boy who backed out of going to my senior prom with me 17 years ago? She does.

If it turns out I don't have any souvenirs from my last horrible relationship and figure out he really only lied about the one small thing (cough, NOT, cough), I might let go. If someone ever develops a treatment for latex allergy (beyond the terribly convenient avoidance) or a cure for manic depression than they wouldn't be such a curse, but I would never get back the time I lost, the people and opportunities I lost. No, I think that anger will stay with me.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Finding Happiness

This post isn't actually about me. I'm not saying that I have or haven't found happiness. I'm not surfing my bliss, but I'm on the right track. This is more about whether you would stay in a place where there was no possibility of achieving what you want and need to be happy in your life. This is about an old and dear friend of mine that I can't seem to stop thinking and worrying about.

Try this on for size. You're living in a foreign country where the value system is counter to that which you were raised with and that which you have always aspired. What you want in life is to find the right person, settle down and have a family. Family is incredibly important to you because you come from a family where family was always a priority. You understand the sacrifices necessary for this and you're more than happy to make them.

However, you're living in a culture where people honestly believe that their goal in life is to suck as much pleasure out of it as possible. They don't need to plan for the future because the government takes care of things. College is free, students actually get paid to be in school, so there are no huge expenses to their parents and no student loans looming over young graduates. Women can and do have children on there own because the government will subsidize them and the father is forced to pay a fee whether he is actually a part of the child's life or not. Why bother getting married?

My friend wound up there because he married a woman from that country. He thought he had found his person. We all thought he had found his person and we adored her, if for no other reason than she adored him. We don't like her so much any more. She ended things and dragged it out, led him on, etc. etc. Basically broke his heart into a billion little pieces. We (his friends and family) suggested he come home, we asked him to come home, we begged him to come home. But he's still over there.

I can understand not wanting to go home. My world recently fell to pieces and I needed to leave where I was. I didn't want to go home. Luckily, I had a sister with a guest room halfway across the country!

There are people who leave and people who don't. No judgment call, it's just different types of people. My sister, me, this friend, we all left. Most of the people we grew up with never had any ambitions beyond getting to Boston. We were all beyond Boston the minute we graduated from high school. And after college we went even further. My sister chose Manhattan, I hit the world inside the beltway, and my friend managed to work on nearly every continent. After those things, going back to Boston feels like a failure. Not to mention that it's so damn expensive to live there! I'm not sure I could ever go back and my sister can only imagine going back if something happened to her husband and she was left alone with my nephew and the baby. But that's different, that's a catastrophe.

So is fear of failure enough to keep you in a place where you will never get what you need to be happy or be fulfilled? My sister says no. She says there has to be something there that he doesn't want to leave. Well, six weeks of vacation a year could be a definite motivator. Or maybe he doesn't realize that he's never going to find what he wants. It took me twice through his email to realize that. The first time I got caught up in the witty banter and the jokes and the reminders of our lives as teenagers. It was only when I reread it, needing to feel that light heartedness that I saw through to the truth. I doubt he's read what he wrote and saw what I saw; the harsh dichotomy of what he wants in his life and what the culture that surrounds him has to offer.

Inertia is a really powerful thing. I look back on my own life and try to see what it has taken for me to change course and usually it's been the floor falling out from under me. I've had my moments of bravery, usually followed closely by pure panic, but I try to do the things that scare me. They tend not to be so scary afterwards. I wish I could give him whatever it is he needs to move forward. I would. All he has to do is ask.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Personal Data of 26.5 Million Veterans Stolen

I know, I know. You're all expecting a rant about the level of responsibility the government needs to show when playing with information that can be used against individuals. The importance of protecting the individual over everything when collecting data and the responsibility of the data steward to protect those whose information he oversees. Blah, blah, blah. I can do that speech and maybe next week I will, but this week, let me offer an alternative explanation. But before you begin to see me as cold and detached, let me offer up that among those 26.5 million veterans, I have both friends and family, so this is a little personal.

Also, a quick disclaimer. I don't work for the Veterans Administration. I never have either as a direct employee or as the employee of a contractor. I have never even worked with VA data. Might not even recognize it if I saw it on a computer screen in front of me!

That said:
I do work and have worked for government agencies. At present, I work for the health agencies of one of the largest states in the country. I analyze huge datasets. Not all of them are in the order of the 20 million observations, but all of them are too big to be imported into only-65,000-observations-MS-Excel. Have I mentioned that the public sector is exceedingly cheap when it comes to computer hardware? I have crashed SPSS more times than I care to think of simply for lack of available memory. I even crashed MS Access for my entire unit (shhhh. They still don't know it was me.) in my first week on the job. Why all the computer problems? Well, let's see, my computer operating system is Windows 2000 ~ I don't think that's a good sign. And while I can't speak for the current IT support, in prior government jobs, I have been head and shoulders above the IT staff in computer knowledge and ability and yet, they were still able to lord administrative rights over me. I do know that when our new unit director put in an order for top of the line high speed processor, huge RAM, enormous hard drives, etc computers for us, IT questioned the need. My unit director (who had already gotten approval for the expenditure from everyone from God on down) gave IT the quick explanation about what the average state employee uses a computer for (word processing) vs. what his staff uses one for (high level data analysis of enormous datasets) and basically put the guy in his place.

Now let's review what we know about government work in data analysis. HUGE datasets. Outdated computers lacking even the minimum hardware capacity to do your job. Deadlines that were usually weeks before you got the assignment. (Forgot to mention that one earlier, didn't I?)

So here's my point. I bring work home. Everyone does. In government work, I have yet to meet someone who actually can get their work done in 40 hours per week. (I'm sure the stereotypical government worker does exist, but they're not the ones running around with advanced degrees and actual program responsibilities.) I haven't brought any datasets home (most likely because I have no analysis software on my computer right now), but I have in the past. It's really hard not to when you know that the computer sitting in your apartment has eight times the capacity of the one in your cubicle. Efficiency begs you to use the one at home. Frustration nags that you just try using your own computer, just this once. And by data protection guidelines, (i.e. the number of people who have access to the computer with the data; the number of people who have access to the office with the computer, etc) sometimes your home computer rates higher than the one in your office.

Yeah, it was probably stupid to have the data on disks ~ and lets not be moronic, we're talking about cds or zip drives in the very least. 26.5 million records do not fit on a 1.4mb disk, or even several hundred of them! Chances are the data were in some obscure (only the government would use) database format like oracle that your average felon won't be able to even open. Or with any luck, they were in SAS (excuse the obscure on the government would use comment on that one ~ don't want to piss of the SAS users of the world), a format that just won't open unless you pay the lords at the SAS Institute an enormous licensing fee to use their software (read: you don't even get to own the software). And that shouldn't be too hard for the FBI to track, convicted felons with recently purchased SAS licenses...

But let me offer up an easy fix for all of this, beyond the obvious hardware upgrades for data analysis in government work ~ why not pay these highly skilled government employees more money (like the big bucks the private sector shells out for them) so they wouldn't be living in a place where burglary is so rampant???

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Vegetable incompatibility

So here's a weird one to consider. How important to you is it that the person you spend the rest of your life with shares the same tastes in foods as you do? Food allergies don't count. We're just throwing those right out. I'm talking about the president who won't eat broccoli or green beans. Would you marry someone who loved steak if you were a vegan? Probably not, but how far do you take it?

A few years ago I was visiting my sister while she was pregnant with my nephew and we decided to get pizza for lunch. She got really excited at the prospect of getting mushrooms on the pizza, a staple of pizza toppings in our home growing up. We ordered from a funky Austin pizza place and I was thrilled to be able to get artichoke hearts, spinach and roma tomatoes on the pizza, but my sister was just excited about the mushrooms. Why? Because my brother-in-law doesn't like mushrooms. Did you know this when you married him, I asked, believing that this would obviously have to be some horrible personality flaw that must have been kept hidden until it was too late to annul. But she did. In my confusing world of singleness, I couldn't quite understand how one could so calmly put aside their preference for pizza toppings and pasta sauces. I mean, seriously, isn't that one of the very early dating screeners ~ pizza preferences? You can put up with a lot for an otherwise perfect man, but someone who never lets you get your favorite pizza is really pushing it. I always thought it was rather serendipitous that my college boyfriend and I both really loved Hawaiian pizza. But then again, what do I know. Turns out, I'm allergic to pineapple.

And so I've been going along thinking my sister is the only one playing vegetable martyr (and she does play martyr well, I should add) when I'm having dinner over at a college friend's house and she announces that the reason she's cooked Mediterranean vegetable rissotto for me is because her husband hates peas. (He happens to be in Bucharest.) Now I could live a very happy life without peas. I like them, but my existence is in no way marred when they're missing from my routine. My friend, however, is apparently quite fond of them. Seeing a pattern?

This all gets me thinking, what would I give up? Hawaiian pizza is an easy one. No effort at all, in fact. But zucchini and spinach ~ not gonna give those up! Yes, I'm one of those freaks who puts zucchini in pasta sauce and lasagne and I've even been known to throw it in chili. There was even a burrito place where I went to grad school that had grilled zucchini burritos! Those babies rocked! And in Washington, there were spinach burritos, equally rocking! (Well, there was a spell following a lithium induced regurgitation of a spinach burrito that turned me off them for several years, but that's just not something worth dwelling on.) Prior to that and then many years later, when I returned to Burrito Brothers, the spinach burritos rocked!

So, I suppose, while I'm in the process of not looking (note the continuity of this blog) I will make a point of not looking for someone who is vegetably compatible.

And they say I'm too picky!!! Seriously...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What is it about health prevention that gets our moral value panties in a bind????

The article (as always from the New York Times) linked to today's blog concerns the recent FDA advisory board's unanimous approval of a vaccine for HPV. For those of you not in proverbial "KNOW" HPV is human papillomavirus, two strains of which (those included in the vaccine) are known to cause the majority of cervical cancer. HPV is an STI (If you missed the CDC changing from STD to STI, you're not alone. I have no idea when that happened!!) and is passed through unprotected sex. Being a virus it can't be treated with antibiotics and testing just became available for it in the last 20 or so years.

Anyway, conventional wisdom is that recommended use of the HPV vaccine (i.e. vaccinating girls at a young age, long before they would be sexually active and making it part of the standard vaccination protocol, eventually including boys as well ~ although the efficacy of the vaccine on males has not been proven, vaccinating males would be necessary to create herd immunity) will most certainly be shot down by the moral majority. Most likely the same people who are keeping plan B medication from becoming available over the counter and the same folks who support a pharmacist's right to refuse to dispense birth control if it goes against his or her value system.


It's really tempting to go all "femi-nazi" here and start screaming about how these same pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control on the basis that they believe sex should only occur for procreation don't seem to have an issue with dispensing cialis or viagra without requiring assurances from those patients that they are using the medication specifically to impregnate their wives. Let's not even mention at this point that there's some question as to whether some of these drugs cause decreased fertility as well!!

We'll just stay on point. Vaccinations, right? Hepatitis B. That would be a virus that is bloodborne and primarily sexually transmitted. It had been screened out of the blood supply long before anyone was recommending the vaccine for persons outside the healthcare arena. Now it's a standard part of the childhood vaccination series. Now think with me here. It's no longer in the blood supply, so no one's getting from a transfusion. It would appear the only way to get it is from unprotected sex!! OH. MY. GOD. We're vaccinating babies against an STI! So what? Do you think we just slipped that one past the Christian Right? It is plausible since they've never struck me as particularly bright or scientifically informed.

But let me toss out a better explanation. Only half the population can get cervical cancer. That would be the people who actually have a cervix. Now let's think about those big mouthed overzealous leaders of the religious right and the moronic neo-conservatives who are running this country into the ground ~ cervix or no cervix? Need I say more?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Well, this is a good sign....

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

Friday, May 19, 2006

You know you've become a complete data/science geek when....

You find yourself yelling at your car stereo because the random selection on the cd player isn't really random. I mean, come on, if it keeps going to the same three songs, it's basically the equivalent of a die that only rolls 1s, 3s and 5s which is definitely not random, completely illegal in Nevada and most Indian Reservations and quite frankly, wonky. (And yes, that is a technical data related term.)

I understand a certain affinity for "Baba O'Riley" and am willing to accept that The Who may in fact have their very own gravitational field. But, this is Japanese engineering!!! Come on, guys!! I'm not willing to accept that your greatest wisdom was conveyed in "wax on, wax off."

Maybe we just need a bit more honesty in the labeling. Instead of randomizer, how about "car selected order"? That would be honest and definitely more accurate. Let's be honest with ourselves, there's no little random number generator inside my car spitting out numbers between 1 and 20. If there was, it would want to know if I wanted repeats allowed or not ~ and man, would that confuse the heck out of someone like my mother!!! Better yet, "driver relinquished control" of song order. That's basically what it is, until I start yelling and hitting the forward button because there's only so many times you can hear "Out here in the field!...." on you way to work.

Ah, geez, this is turning into the whole significance nightmare. If you've been there you know what I'm talking about. It's that need to ask, (whenever anyone tells you that something, anything, is significant), at what level? What's the confidence interval? And what was the power? The sample size?

And this is why geeks rarely have non-geek friends....

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A 'Da Vinci Code' That Takes Longer to Watch Than Read

Okay, first of all, if you haven't read this review in the NYT, you're missing some of the best comedy writing of the (at the very least) week! (Go, run, read!!)

I read the DaVinci Code back in the day when it had only been on the bestseller's list for weeks counted in the double digits, ah, the old days. It was interesting and intriguing, no doubt, but as A.O. Scott so aptly points out ~ "Dan Brown's best-selling primer on how not to write an English sentence" ~ was really poorly written. This is not to say that I didn't run out and read all his other books. Angels & Demons is by far my favorite, but that may just because I was raised Catholic and have always been enthralled by conclave.

Anyway, I place Dan Brown in the same category as John Grisham: middle aged men living out their fantasies in novels that have decent stories to tell but really ought to be written by someone else with actual writing skill. (Hello, ghostwriter anyone?) My sister's theory about Grisham is that after he sold his first million books, they didn't feel like expending the budget to have someone edit him, either that or his ego dictated that he didn't get edited.

But seriously, was there anyone actually expecting "DaVinci Code" to be another "Cinderella Man" or "Beautiful Mind"? (Wouldn't Russell Crowe have to be involved for that to happen anyway???) Seriously, with all the talk about Tom Hanks' hair (which you must admit bears a very striking resemblance to Dan Brown's, hello? middle aged man fantasy?), there must have been a real lack of meaty content to discuss. We're not THAT shallow a society, are we? Wait, don't answer that.

In all honesty, I may actually see "DaVinci Code," when it's showing three nights in row on TNT! But just to see Ian McKellen who sounds like he was aware of the ridiculousness of the proposition from the beginning and just enjoyed the ride!

ps. If you like the Dan Brown tales but can't bear his writing ~ I recommend Steve Berry and his books: The Amber Room; The Romanov Prophecy; The Third Secret; and The Templar Legacy.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.

So, today I walked in the March of Dimes WalkAmerica walkathon in Austin. It was a 5K/3.2 mile walk from the river up to the state house and back again. I raised $235 and got a bit of a sunburn, despite the 35 spf lotion that covered all exposed skin. I feel good about taking part in the walkathon and I support the March of Dimes, but I still have mixed feelings about the whole preemie issue. It goes back to the great Jeff Goldblum quote from Jurassic Park that titles today's blog.

This is what I know. Infant Mortality rates had been declining, but since 2002 or so, they have been increasing. The greatest increase is in the early neonatal mortality rate, the first 7 days of life. What else has been increasing? The use of ART (assisted reproductive technology) and the incidence of multiple births. Twins are common and triplets, quadruplets and even quintuplets aren't a rarity. Why? Science. Human women only have two breasts because they were only ever meant to nurse one, tops two, babies at a time. If we were meant to have litters we would be equipped with six or eight nipples like dogs, cats or rabbits. And for those of you not familiar with multiple birth gestation, you basically expect to lose around 4 weeks for each additional baby. So with twins, you're lucky to carry to 36 weeks (instead of 40), triplets, 32 and so on. Then keep in mind that they're sharing one placenta, not necessarily in a particularly equitable manner, and you're got some really shaking ground to start with. And that's before they even check into the NICU.

But back to the babies dying in the first seven days of life ~ major cause of death? Preterm delivery and very low birthweight. We've taken the NICU treatments as far as we can ~ we've stretched the limits of our technology. When do we start asking the question about whether or not a child was really meant to live? When do we consider palliative care over heroic measures? It can't be a pleasant few hours or days of life with all those tubes coming in and out of you. When we know, KNOW, that we probably can't save them, why do we put these babies through the agony?

Because we're selfish. We don't like death. We do everything possible to avoid it. (Everything, that is except eat properly, exercise regularly and get all the appropriate medical screenings.) When I discuss this with other people, they say that it's different when it's your child, but I still don't see myself wanting my child to suffer needlessly. There is enough of that in life that can't be avoided without inflicting it in on those you love.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rude, Rude, Rude!!

So I'm having this ridiculously crazy day at work ~ so busy that I can't even get to the online NYT for a little break!! (yeah, how unfair is that??) Anyway, I've been working on this "burden document" for a program (and believe me, they call these puppies "burden"s for a reason!!) And running this marathon lit review for one of my research articles "rapid repeaters" which would be, (for those of you not versed in maternal child health lingo) women who have two children within a twenty four month period. We're looking at characteristics of these women and outcomes for them and the second child. (I'm just trying to figure out how to prevent myself from slipping Britney Spears into my research proposal ~ Talk about rapid repeater!! The woman is 5 months pregnant and has an 8 month old!!! You do the math!)

But back to my crazy day. I get this data request from my boss for a ridiculous amount of data in a very short period of time, so I'm switching gears to start analyzing the ridiculously huge birth file. After some degree of frustration, I decide I need a cold drink. I go down to the cafeteria to get some ice in my plastic cup (10 cents) and instead of walking through the indoor walkways between buildings on the campus, I decide to cut outside (the first time I had seen daylight since arriving at work, I should add) and walk across a courtyard/parking lot. As I'm reaching the entrance to my building, an employee only, must have access card to enter, entrance, a woman with a cell phone approaches me and asks me to open the door for her. I apologize and tell her that it's not a visitors entrance and I'm not allowed to let anybody in, pointing to the signs that say just that. She gets a little belligerent and starts trying to intimidate me. She shows me her "visitor" sticker. Again, I apologize and point to the "Not a visitor's entrance" sign and tell her I can't let her in. So she says she's going to report me. Okay, to whom, I'm thinking? What's your name, she says, grabbing at my i.d. So I hold out my i.d. for her so she can get me name right. I mean, what the hell? I'm supposed to be intimidated by some bitch who is going to tell someone else that I (by name) would not let her into a secure building because that's what I've been instructed to do. Whatever! This becomes a topic of great amusement in my office when I return. No one has any idea who I should be reported to for following the security rules. No one can believe the woman had the gaul to treat me that way.

Well, whatever it is! The next morning when I come into work to finish the data request and get it faxed to where my boss is off site, I find out that my boss has been told that he has to call this belligerent twit and apologize to her on my behalf for my behavior the day before. Seriously? Seriously. How did she track me down in less than 24 hours and find my supervisor who has worked here for less than 6 weeks???? Heck if I know. Luckily, or perhaps because of past experience? I had told him about the incident, kind of as joke. So, whenever whoever called him about it he was able to say, yeah, she told me a really rude woman harassed her because she wouldn't let the woman into an employee only entrance.

Seriously though. Who has time to do that???? I mean, I barely find time to protest when my car is returned to me from the body shop with 300 extra miles on the odometer, the front seats detailed for no apparent reason and the radio tuned to a station I have never listened to. But seriously, who are these people? Do they go around looking for opportunities to be wronged so they can exercise their power???? I think at best this woman is getting an "I'm sorry you got all upset that my employee wouldn't let you into the building when she wasn't supposed to." (I would want to add, I hope you find time to take an anger management class so that you can better control your emotions in the future....)

Speaking of controlling emotions, have I mentioned the cranky pregnant woman I'm living with recently?? Ah well, that's a whole 'nother blog!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I wasn't looking...

Ask married people how they met "the one" and they invariably tell you that they honestly had stopped looking and that was when it happened.

Is this a load of crap? Quite possibly. Do I like that it gives me a reason to stop actively pursuing dates and such? Quite definitely! Have I mentioned recently how much I hate dating??? Have I mentioned the number of times I have been told that there was either little or no spark??? What is this spark thing, anyway??? I *don't* spark. I am the human equivalent of wild fire prevention.

A few years ago, I saw "Monsoon Wedding" and called my mother to complain that she didn't bring me up in a society where arranged marriages were socially acceptable. (Which is only because ~ and stop reading if you haven't seen this marvelous movie yet ~ the guy her parents picked out for her was so much better than the guy she had selected for herself. Had it been the other way around, I would not have been so hot for the idea of arranged marriage.)

Anyway, back on Ally McBeal (another truly pathetic character who probably weighed a good 50-60lbs less than I did and yet I identified with her ~ a theme?) she saw a therapist who told her that she needed a theme song. It was, of course, a very goofy episode as she tried out different songs and found it difficult to walk down the street to different songs, but anyway, the idea has always stayed with me. Life has a soundtrack whether you intend it or not. It just kind of happens and you don't always get to decide what the tone of the music is or when the awful haunting don't-go-into-the-basement music from every 80s horror film comes on. It wouldn't be right if you knew you were making the huge mistake, no dramatic irony.

But there are times when you do get to pick the soundtrack, when you pick your theme song, a mantra that will sustain you through some change or whatever. This Anna Nalick song is mine, now that I'm not looking. Seriously, I'm not.

"In The Rough"

You say you fell while holding diamonds in your hands
"It's your fault for running, holding diamonds," I said
And I offer no sympathy for that
I hear that it was you who died alone
And I offer no sympathy for that
Better off I sparkle on my own

And someday love will find me in the rough
Someday love will finally be enough

I turned around 3 times and wound up at your door
Now you say you know all you did not know before
And I offer no sympathy for that
I hear that it was you who died alone
And I offer no sympathy for that
Better off I sparkle on my own

And someday love will find me in the rough
Someday love will finally be enough

I got your love letters
I threw them all away
And I hear you think that I'm crazy
I'm driving 95
And I'm driving you away
And I shine a little more lately

Someday love will find me in the rough
Someday love will finally be enough

Someday love will find me in the rough
Someday love will finally be enough

I shine a little more lately

It seems appropriate now to end with my favorite Ally McBeal quote: Maybe I'll share my life with somebody... maybe not. But the truth is, when I think back of my loneliest moments, there was usually somebody sitting there next to me.

Monday, May 08, 2006

You GO, Girl!!

So, I'm a Grey's Anatomy junkie. I have to admit that I identify with Meredith, not because my father abandoned me (he's a great guy and we have the best relationship), not because my mother is losing her mind (not as a diagnosed Alhzeimer's patient, anyway, and she usually knows who I am on the phone) and definitely not because of Meredith's sex life ~ I don't think I've gotten as much sex in the last 15 years as Meredith has gotten in the last two seasons!!!

I identify with Meredith because deep down inside, I'm broken on some profound level. I'm never quite sure I'm good enough and I know exactly what it feels like to be lost, in every since of the word. Unlike Meredith, I've learned that there's no easy fix. You don't get to be found by someone. You have to find your own way, which is so much harder, but in the end, the best way to keep from being lost forever.

I had to share this clip from Damage Case that got uploaded onto youtube.com today because it reminded me why I love Meredith so much as well. She has something that I don't, the nerve and courage to stand up to some people and just let them have what's coming....

Since it seems the scene may have disappeared from youtube.com, I'll provide you with the dialog from the scene and you can just picture Meredith Grey (Ellem Pompeo)and Derek "McDreamy" Shepard (Patrick Dempsey) in your head.

Meredith: I never should have told you about George.
Derek: No, its fine, I'm glad I know about him, and the vet. You really get around.
Meredith: What did you just say to me?
Derek: Its unforgivable.
Meredith: I don't remember ever asking you to forgive me.
Derek: So was the knitting a phase? Who's next? Alex? 'Cause I hear he likes to sleep around too. You two have that in common.
Meredith: [she grabs him as he turns to walk off] You don't get to call me a whore. When I met you, I thought I had found the person that I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I was done. So all the boys and all the bars and all the obvious daddy issues, who cared, because I was done. You left me. You chose Addison. I'm all glued back together now. I make no apologies for how I chose to repair what you broke. You don't get to call me a whore.
Derek: This thing with us is finished. It's over.
Meredith: Finally.
Derek: Yea it's done.
Meredith: It is done.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A New Size for Denim: Extra Tight

Okay, now we're talking about men's fashion here.

So let's play random association, okay? Extra tight jeans? Canadian men in speedos.

Since I was mentioning losses of innocence the other day, let's add this one. I grew up in New England and everyone who ever spent significant time at Northern New England beaches knows one ugly fact (well at least one), Canadian men like the speedo. Now we're talking about the buff, muscular hockey playing Canadian men (I believe they summer at the lakes in Minnesota??) We're talking about the fat, hairy old Canadian men who wear the tight little speedos, sometimes in colors that are transparent when wet, and leave little if anything to the imagination. Yeah, no need to show that diagram of the male genitalia in health class, I've been to Hampton Beach!!

So here's where I'm going with the extra tight, or "skinny," jeans ~ there are some things best left to the imagination or better yet, best left a mystery altogether. I mean, the jeans look great on the five models in the New York Times, but five random guys on the street? Eeek. With that said, I don't think anyone should be forced to see me in skinny jeans either, and they won't, not in this lifetime, anyway!!

I guess, I'm just going to have to take a stand on this one (sure to be a MAJOR issue in 2008) definitely not in favor of the skinny jean.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Well aren't I just giddy with delight?

It appears I have unwittingly stumbled into the topic that is the center of the blogosphere! (Just for the record, why isn't it a "blogsphere?")

Ah yes, the Stephen Colbert performance at the White House correspondents dinner. I thought it was hysterical and I admired him for going on with gusto when the crowd reacted like they were watching their 88 year old grandmother do a striptease. Did they deserve the digs? Most definitely! They've been acting like a bunch of trained carrier pigeons since the beginning of 2002 ~ it took Katrina(!!!!) to remind them that they actually don't report to the administration and they don't have to deliver the story handed to them or strapped to their leg, if we want to stay with my metaphor.

Loved the fact that he said that the administration was rearranging deck chairs on the Hindenberg, not the Titanic. (Especially given the fact that one was destined to for destruction and the other just had some bad luck. I mean, come on, who really thought it was a good idea to place diesel burning engines in close proximity to 200,000 cubic meters of highly flammable hydrogen??? They even had a smoking room, for god's sake!! And don't even get me started on the karma issues involved with it being a Nazi vehicle...)

But back to the humorless press corps... I did my time inside the beltway. Back in the days when I was young and innocent ~ well, not as young and innocent as when I was a Republican and worked for the local party on the election (but that was 1984 and I wasn't old enough to vote, so I couldn't do real damage). Anyway, right after I graduated from college, I went to work for a media relations firm. Now there are several losses of innocence that one experiences in their life, the worst for me was finding out my "pet" frogs were cannibals, but working inside the beltway was another lesser loss of innocence. My first day on the job, as I was being oriented to the computer system and the very important method of billing clients for our time, the president came into the office to talk with account executive working with me. He said it was time to release the research. I was sent off to work on something else while my coworker prepped a package to send over to the Post. The next day a story appeared on the back page of the front page section of the Washington Post. The story detailed the study and mentioned how it had been "leaked" to Post reporters. Leaked. Yeah, by press release with a fax machine!! That was the day I stopped believing in investigative journalism. After two years of "face time," corporate culture where what you could take credit mattered more than what you actually did, the realization that it truly was a rat race (And everyone knows that the problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat)and happy hours where everyone drank Amstel Light, I was fully jaded and got the heck out of there. There was something very Stepford-esque about the Amstel Light and I'm still a little creeped out by people who drink it.

Maybe journalists and their editors, publisher and broadcasters have been frightened by the power of corporations after the experience of 60 Minutes and Jeffrey Wigand or maybe that fact that most media outlets are owned by large conglomerate corporations control the news. Either way, one can't help but think that "news" is nothing more that what is handed out in press packets or provided in press conferences. Sure the local folks are listening to the scanners -- it still leads if it bleeds! But the only folks that seem to be working for their material are the stalkerazzi. Maybe that's why we're so obsessed with celebrity news? We can recognize that it's the only real news not being served up to media on a platter. After all, who are you more likely to track down an anonymous source for? Whether Dick Cheney actually requested that Scooter Libby leak the name of Joe Wilson's wife (and you can bet there was a media list involved!!) or the inside story on how Katie Holmes' family really feels about Tom Cruise and Scientology?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The best way to discourage risky behavior is to take away the safety net...

This is a quote from this morning's Times describing the Bush administration's policy on birth control and family planning. What an interesting idea! And it has wonderful cost saving implications all over the place!

Let's get rid of dentists! Maybe people would floss as often as they're supposed to if they didn't have someone to bail them out!! And how about doctors and hospitals? Maybe we'd all finally start eating healthy and exercising, quit smoking, wash our hands, not eat raw oysters or do stupid things with power tools and sporting equipment if we knew there was no one there to take care us when we needed it.

And lets get rid of those rails on the side of the highways! Maybe people will be a little more careful about driving off the road if there's nothing there to prevent them from heading into oncoming traffic, going into a ditch or driving over a cliff. And by all means, get rid of bicycle helmets! Sure, studies have shown they prevent head and brain injuries, but studies, schmudies!! We're talking about discouraging behavior ~ no helmet, no fall off bike! And while we're talking about proven safety features? Seatbelts and baby seats? They only give people permission to drive more recklessly! Think how much more carefully new parents would drive if the newborn was just tossed in the trunk when they left the hospital?

And emergency exits ~ we should get rid of those too. If people knew there was no easy way out, they would be so much more careful about starting fires or having emergencies of any kind (think back to preventing clogged arteries and all that.) And what is 911 and emergency services but society condoning emergencies? By providing a fire department, we're saying it's okay to burn down your house, it's not your responsibility to prevent it or stop it. Maybe people would be more careful if they knew help wasn't just a phone call away. We should definitely take that away, it completely encourages risky behavior. It's an obvious conclusion.

Just like providing plan B over the counter would make American women into a bunch of hussies. (Mind you, it's all about the women because there are no men involved in unwanted pregnancies.) Doesn't it all make perfect sense?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Stephen Colbert Roasts W

Ah, where would we be without the technological advances of the 21st century? I, myself, am addicted to wi-fi, iTunes, my hybrid care and a multitude of other things. One might expect that given my field of work, public health, I would be proclaiming the medical advancements of organ transplant or bipass surgery or how far we've come in saving preterm infants. But no, we get the biggest bang from the simplest things, nothng 21st century about it. Vaccines. Mosquito nets. Potable water. Consistent food supply. The bells and whistles are exstraneous in public health.

But back to the truly great technology of the 21st century. In case you're not a regular C-SPAN watcher (and honestly, who would admit it if they were?) Some good soul has been kind enough to upload Colbert's Roast to Youtube. Rock On, youtube!!

And you have to love the chase scene involving Helen Thomas...

Stoically surviving the side effects

I guess since I've completely outed myself here, I can candidly talk about my experience with mental illness and not feel like anyone is gaining more intimate knowledge.

There's an article in the Times today (link on post title) about a failed clinical trial using an antipsychotic, Zyprexa, to prevent full blown psychotic episodes in adolescents expected to develop schizophrenia. (Little editorial note here: Anyone who thinks that has something to do with multiple personalities can leave right now and spend a little time researching the current DSM ~ google it.) The problem with the study, beyond the very small sample size, was the number of individuals that dropped out. See, Zyprexa, or olanzapine, has a few side effects, dry mouth, sleepiness, dizziness, constipation, but the one that the adolescents just couldn't handle was the weight gain. I believe the average weight gain was 20 lbs or so, for those they were able to keep track of.

Welcome to the world of chronic disease! If the symptoms aren't putting you through the ringer, the side effects certainly will!! We, as a culture, as a medical establishment, are willing to accept a certain amount of suffering in the journey to a cure, it all depends on how bad the ailment it. No one would accept the side effects of chemotherapy to treat a runny nose or a run of the mill head ache, but cancer? Sign me up for a full destruction of my immune system, rounds of radiation, poison, hair loss, vomiting, surgical removal of multiple parts of my body, make me feel like I'm really dying, so I'll appreciate it that much more when I don't!

So where does mental illness fit into all this? It depends where you've been. Have you reached the point of hypomania where your thoughts are moving so fast that you can't complete any of them and the only solution you can see is cutting off your head? Have you stood on a bridge and believed that if you climbed over the railing and stepped off it you would float gently down on the breeze like a leaf or a sheet of paper? Have you ever felt so numb that you begin to believe that you're not real anymore? That you need to cut yourself just to make sure you still bleed? Have you ever packed up every sharp object in your house and made someone else take them home because you just don't feel safe with them around? Have you ever expended ever ounce of your energy just to get out of bed? Have you ever been so close to death that you could smell,feel and taste it?

So, yeah, this is or was, at some point, my life. How many drugs have I been on? Too many to remember, but let's just say most of them. I've been on enough drugs to experience dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, hypotension, dizziness, hand tremor, urinary retention (a personal favorite), acute hypertensive crisis (with a diet that excludes just about everything in the average American's food intake), nausea, vomiting, hair loss, weight gain (try 65 lbs), excess sweating (a hard one to explain), blurred vision, and last but not least, complete shut down of the thyroid. Have I complained? Actually, not until the thyroid. My mother called my doctor and ratted me out on the vomiting. I was just going to be all brave and compliant. And the drug with the wonderful weight gain, which I started right after losing the weight gained while operating without a thyroid, had no warnings about weight gain when I started taking it ~ it was better than the lithium that didn't agree with my thyroid. Now, of course, it comes with major weight gain warnings and has also been identified as tetragenic. Good to know, huh? And I did the MAOI route, with the diet from hell. Had oral surgery without novacaine (which contain epinepherine) and got a much shorter acting anesthetic instead. Got tired of all the starting and stopping and injections and figured it would just be best to get it over with. Word to the wise: NEVER have oral surgery without anesthetic, lots of anesthetic. I think I scared the hot shot oral surgeon (with an ego the size of Outer and Inner Mongolia) half to death because I looked near death at the end of the procedure. I experienced an acute hypertensive crisis in the middle of class (ate something that contained chicken broth by accident) and instead of going to the ER, popped the rescue drug, nifedipine, and went to my next class to take a midterm. I had studied for the exam and I didn't want to be taken to the local hospital where I would most likely be killed in the ER. Yes, my doctor nearly took my head off. I could have had a stroke. I should have passed out due to the major drop in blood pressure ~ the only thing we can figure out is that my concentration level on the exam prevented it. I also took a final exam with no thyroid function. Not a great experience. But I still got an A.

But what's the point then? I would rather live through all of that again then to have to spend my life experiencing my illness full on. There was a time when I believed that you had to endure a certain amount of suffering to acquire health, like there was some strange balance that must be kept. My psychiatrist blamed the idea on my Irish Catholic upbringing. It's like the Shawn Colvin song, If I Were Brave ~ Is it something you should know, did you never do your best; Would you be saved if you were brave and just tried harder But disease and cure, or treatment (since there is no cure for me), isn't about proving yourself worthy of health. If it was, there would be a cure, wouldn't there?

My mother always told me that life isn't fair ~ she had no idea. But you pick up your pieces and you keep moving forwards. Why? Because you've already seen what's behind you and you have to believe that there's something better ahead, besides, if you did go back, nothing you remember would still be there. Everything moves forward. That's just the way it works. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes the fact that it keeps moving is the only thing that you have to hold on to. Sometimes you can just let go and enjoy the ride, see where it takes you. But you only get to do that when you're not trying to jump off.

I've lost the weight. I don't have the tremor anymore. But my blood pressure is low and my balance is shot. And I'm still exhausted. I also get head aches a lot and migraines too. I still cry a little too easily, but I also laugh and I smile a genuine smile. I'm still frightened of what's coming next, but it seems to be a long ways away, not creeping up behind me. Am I well? As well as I get, I suppose. That's the problem with mental illness. You tend to forget where you end and the illness begins and the people who don't know you well, don't even know there's a difference. But you still know, or at least you hope you remember. The good stuff is much easier to forget. But as long as you keep pushing through the bad, you get more of the good.