Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Please, Hunger Games Costume and Makeup

I really, really liked The Hunger Games movie. It was phenomenally good. Emotionally, it was everything I was hoping for. Jennifer Lawrence was Katniss, and the rest of the casting/acting for the main characters was spot on, no matter what anyone else says.. If you know about my deep mistrust of many book-to-movie franchises, you'll know that I do not offer this praise lightly. I had allowed myself to get insanely pumped up for this movie once I saw the perfect trailer and found out that Suzanne Collins helped write the screenplay. I was not disappointed. In fact, I desperately want to see the movie again.

But...there is a but.

One small thing that probably no one else will even think about...my one complaint...is the techies in the Arena control room.

The Capitol is magically advanced when it comes to science and technology. Throughout the Capitol's population, that is manifested in people's unnatural appearances--hair and skin of any color, texture, or pattern. The appearance of youth long after your prime. Outrageous clothing. Everyone in the Capitol is supposed to be enhanced in some way, even if it's only a simple dash of permanent gold eyeliner.

The only Capitol dwellers in the movie who didn't look snazzy were the techies. The Peacekeepers too, but they're wearing masks--they could look like anything under there! So they don't count. There were numerous face shots of the techies, and they were very, very plain looking. Greasy hair, pockmarked skin, misshapen noses, awkward adolescent chub. No crazy colored hair. No decorative tattoos. The best looking one was a smooth-skinned black lady who seemed to be highly ranked. But her hair was close cropped and not very flattering. She certainly didn't look like she lived in the Capitol.

So why does this matter to me? Because the stereotype of a scientist as unattractive, socially awkward, and cut off from mainstream culture is so ridiculously pervasive. I wrote my Honors thesis at BYU about women in science. I could bust it out and cite things, but I don't feel like doing that, I feel like ranting. So if you doubt me, then I'll happily send you a copy of my thesis with all its references.

Girls and women are still sickeningly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. They've caught up a little bit more in the biology fields, but not really in the others. Just ask any female science major or, if you can find one, science graduate student the average number of women in their classes. Ask them how many female professors they had. It's very likely a one-hand number. Why is that? Are women not as good at science? Are they inherently not as interested?

Any academic book you pick up about this subject comes to the same conclusion--women are just as capable in the STEM fields, but the socialization of girls mixes explosively with the cultural concept of scientists as social outcasts. By kindergarten, boys and girls have gendered images of scientists--in favor of men. By middle school, when everything is in flux physically, emotionally, and socially, girls run away from advanced science and math classes in huge packs. (Whereas herds of boys are shepherded into advanced STEM classes, being told it's good for their future and potential careers). This is a very subtle and subconscious thing. I don't know if any middle school girl could actually express to you why she doesn't want to take Algebra 2 as an 8th grader. But a huge part of it is that deep down, it's not worth the risk. Middle school is a time where girls want to feel accepted and attractive. The instinctual image of someone in the STEM fields is a person who is unaccepted and unattractive.

This may seem like a small issue, but researchers on this subject all agree that social factors are the prime reason more women aren't in science. You really have to be a confident gal to overcome these stereotypes and study what you love.

So, when I go see a movie that gazillions of confident young gals are drawn to because of the powerful, proactive heroine, and see a big manifestation of the ugly scientist meme, it really frustrates me. A woman can be a fighter. She can be a hunter. She can strong and compassionate at the same time. But heaven forbid that a scientist be depicted in that same three-dimensional way. A scientist can't be glittery. A scientist can't have fuchsia hair. A scientist can't have an implied social life or personality away from the high-tech control room where they work. Nope, they just stay there 24/7, looking plain and pallid. They're just dumpy, dreary workaholics. Above all, a scientist can't be feminine. It was nice that the head techie was female, but as I mentioned, her hair was distinctly masculine and militaristic.

And the most grating part is that these "facts" about scientists are apparently true EVEN IN THE FUTURE. EVEN IN THE CAPITOL. EVEN AFTER AN APOCALYPTIC NUCLEAR WAR. The takeaway message is that scientists will never, ever change. No matter where they live, no matter what society, they will always be the nerds that nobody wants to see.

All I can hope is that Katniss does enough good for girls to compensate for the damaging images of scientists. Given how hardcore she is, that's not too much to hope for.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Please, (possible) Jennifer Lawrence photo editors

I could be completely wrong about this, but when I saw this cover of People in the grocery line...

My first thought was, "Oh my gosh they photoshopped her!" To be specific, I believe they photoshopped Jennifer Lawrence's face to look thinner. I have watched The Hunger Games trailer probably a billion times. I know what Jennifer's face looks like. And never at any time has it had a big curving drop off on the flesh underneath her cheek bone. It would be extreme to say she looks anorexic in this picture, but that is not Jennifer Lawrence's natural face shape. Naturally, her face is fuller. And she is beautiful. I gathered some evidence...

Again, I could be wrong. Maybe the picture on People is just from a certain angle, with certain lighting. But for now, I'm going to assume that I'm right. Looking at dozens and dozens of screen shot/snap shot photos of Jennifer Lawrence, I can't find a single one that duplicates that semi-gaunt look she's sporting on the cover of People. So, on that assumption, I'm going to be outraged.

AAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHH WHAT THE HECK?! Why is there an OBSESSION with unnatural thinness in Hollywood? Look at Jennifer Lawrence at The Hunger Games premiere, just look at her:

Does this look like a woman who needs to be edited down to be SMALLER? She is strong and svelte! She is absolutely confident wearing a dress that shows off just how fit and fabulous she is! She looks 100% like a real person, someone who eats well and exercises. She is perfectly trim, but you don't look at her and wonder if she's ever eaten a doughnut. Honestly, for many women, it would be completely realistic and healthy to have a body that looks just like Jennifer Lawrence's.

But her firm, feminine physique is not good enough. Nope. They had to digitally cut her, change and mangle her features. Who makes these decisions? Who looked at Jennifer's face and decided it was too graceful and round, that it needed a dose of Twiggy angularity? Was it a man? Was it a woman? Whoever it was, shame on them. If someone as fit and foxy as Jennifer Lawrence isn't good enough, then who the freak is?

On that note, I am psyched out of my mind to see The Hunger Games this weekend. I often reject movies of books, but for a variety of reasons I am COMPLETELY pumped for this. Whoohoo!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thank you, Shots and Salt

Shots, as in medical injections, are not something I love. Salt is something I love, as my cousin-by-marriage-by-marriage Anna Peterson knows. We are infamous for chanting "Butter and salt! Butter and salt!" in regards to popcorn, which should never be adulterated with things like Parmesan cheese or heaven forbid SUGAR.

But in the title, I'm actually referring to two different NPR series, one on health and one on food. I think you can figure out which is which. When I'm scrolling through my NPR app and adding stories to my playlist, I put everything from Shots and Salt. This week, there was a triumvirate of stories that I wish everyone in America would listen to. 

First, a lovely story about spices, (read: not salt, haha, but things like turmeric, rosemary, ginger, etc) and their ability to change not just the flavor, but the healthfulness of a meal. Researcher Sheila West of Penn State fed study participants the same meal with and without spices and found: "Elevated triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease. And what we showed is that when you have the spices included in the high fat meal, the triglyceride response was reduced by about a third. And it was surprising in magnitude. That's for sure. I guess I just didn't expect such a large decrease."

Second, a story about how when one member of an overweight or obese family gets bariatric surgery, other members of the family tend to lose weight as well, sometimes up to 45 pounds. John Morton of Stanford Hospital and Clinics, who did the study, called obesity a family disease. He remarked: ""We all gather around the table to enjoy a meal together and we learn lessons when we do that. Just like you impart morals to your sons and daughters, you can do the same thing around the dinner table as well and it can be good or bad; we see that all the time...[The study] was noteworthy in that these patients [family members] were able to accomplish [weight loss] just by coming to the same visits that the bariatric surgery patient did...I think most of the family members who came wanted to help out their spouse, Dad, whoever it might be. They wanted to support them and they supported them by making healthy food choices, by exercising together."

Third, a story on how consuming red meat daily increases the risk of heart disease and cancer--surprise surprise. Study author Frank Hu of Harvard recommends no more than 2 or 3 servings of red meat per week, and trying to eliminate processed red meats, like hot dogs and bacon, from your diet. Those meats in particular carry cancer risks. (Oh, and there's also some amusing comments from Betsy Booren, of the American Meat Institute Foundation, who basically says..."Uh...I don't think meat carries cancer risks. And uh...the study is flawed. Yeah, flawed." Thanks for your opinion, paid meat lobbyist. I'm going to stick with scientific studies for my health decisions.)

And you know, for diversity's sake, let's also mention a story from Time about how a mom's pre-pregnancy weight impacts her baby's cognitive development, potentially for reasons like a placenta with blood clots or increased inflammation in the womb environment.

The takeaway message from all these stories combined is: eat lots and lots of Indian food.

I'm not joking. CNN puts Indian food at #5 in their top ten healthiest world cuisines, but I would put it at #1. The other cuisines CNN lists may be healthy in their native environments, but here in the states, a lot of those cuisines get loaded up with salt, fat, and meat. Indian food has so many spices that it needs very little added salt or fat for flavor, and there are loads of mind-blowing vegetarian options. It's so easy to make, and it's very affordable. And I definitely agree with Punim Dingra, quoted in the spices story, that you pretty much can't put too much turmeric. The vast turmeric consumption of Indian children is one big reason why fewer than one in a million children in Indian get leukemia (study quoted in Raising Baby Green). But turmeric isn't the only beauty of Indian cuisine. You've also got cumin, cayenne, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, and more. Geez, I love coriander so much.

Indian food is also very filling and full of fiber, so you can eat less of it and be more satisfied. When you're trying to lose weight, that's exactly the kind of food you need. So many vegetables are at home in a curry or a korma that Indian dishes are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Also, Indian dishes are easy to double or triple, so it's simple to feed a whole family--a whole family that's trying to get healthy together, which is really the key.

I think the only barrier most people encounter with Indian food is learning to love it. It took me a few tries, and I was eating at The Bombay House, possibly the best Indian restaurant in the country. This curry right here, from my dear friend Katherine Morris, was the gateway dish for both Nick and I. 3 years into our marriage, we now say officially that Indian food is our top favorite cuisine. (Thai food--we can still be friends. It's not you, it's me.) And thanks to guidance from the wonderful book Feeding Baby Green, Luke loves Indian food just as much as we do.
Garbanzo Curry

¼ cup oil
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
4 celery stalks, sliced crosswise into ½ inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tb garlic, finely chopped
3 Tb curry powder
½ tsp dried thyme
2 cans stewed tomatoes with oregano and basil
2 cans garbanzo beans, drained
1 ½ cups rasins
3 cups vegetable broth
about ½ tsp salt

Heat oil and cook sweet potatoes for 5 minutes, tossing often. Add the celery and onions and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic, curry powder and thyme and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, garbanzo beans, raisins and broth and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt to taste.

(My notes: I usually double the raisins and use the liquid from the garbanzo beans plus maybe 1 cup of vegetable broth. But it's great however you do it). 

In closing, I'll say that I wish the families of bariatric surgery patients could have made crucial lifestyle changes instead of their loved one getting surgery. Getting exercise and cutting back on processed foods, fat, and portion sizes are all sustainable changes that make a big difference in health and weight. And personally, I'd rather slice up less red meat than get sliced up myself. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Please, Rush Limbaugh

As I've heard and read loads of commentary about Rush Limbaugh's attacks on Sandra Fluke, I've been waiting for someone to talk about what was, to me, the most disturbing part. But nobody has, so I suppose I will.

Most everything I read focuses on the fact that Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute. Those are awful words, some of the worst that can be lobbed at a woman. I hate that he called her that. But that's nothing compared to these words:

“So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.”

The first time I heard this, I thought, "Oh my gosh, he's admitting that he's a dirty old man who watches porn!" Clearly, he conceptualizes porn as a plus, a benefit that male tax-payers could receive for having to pay for contraception. How could he think of raunchy videos as a tax return unless he personally patronizes the porn industry? 

The sexual inequality of porn is so ugly. While there may be smaller porn industries that feature men, by and large porn is about naked women. It's about women as nothing more than sexual objects. It's about women devoid of minds, opinions, voices, goals, feelings, rights, or lives. It's about women in sexual servitude to men. It is the epitome of sex removed from a meaningful relationship. 

It seems like Rush Limbaugh's problem is the idea that a woman could have a sexual identity other than  servant. That is what really bothers him. Thus, his attempt to chain Sandra Fluke to a bed. Truly, he morphed into a human trafficker--kidnapping a woman, robbing her of all meaningful connections and achievements, and forcing her to do his sexual bidding.

I'm glad that a number of sponsors have dropped Limbaugh. But he doesn't care. He has suffered absolutely no negative consequences for his sexual harassment. Whereas Sandra Fluke will have to work every day for who knows how long to pull his quills from her skin. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Please, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva

The ethicists named above just published a paper entitled "After-Birth Abortion: Why should the baby live?" That title is not a joke. There is no Johnathan Swift humor involved. The paper  was published in the online edition of The Journal of Medical Ethics on February 23, 2012, and Giubilini and Minerva are quite serious and thorough in their arguments.

I would be angry--I would be upset--if the paper didn't show the most hilarious lack of knowledge about newborns. Their arguments are flimsier than a cheap Gerber onesie. I could tear apart the entire thing, but I'm going to focus on the most obvious problem. In ethics--especially bioethics--it's common to talk about personhood, and to establish a definition of what an actual person is. So, Giubilini and Minerva establish a definition of personhood, say that neither fetuses nor newborns are actual persons, and therefore, wherever abortion is allowed on the grounds that a fetus is not a person, after-birth abortion should be allowed. They don't mean partial-birth abortion. They mean after a baby is born--a healthy, full-term, normal newborn child--a mother should have the legal option to kill it, presumably through euthanasia administered by a doctor. In their paper, they essentially argue for the mother to have any reason at all for killing the newborn--an unexpected disability or defect, or "economic, social, or psychological reasons" that would make the newborn "an unbearable burden".

Okay, I think I was wrong. I definitely am upset. And angry. Here's the crux of their discussion on personhood:

"Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. The reason is that, unlike the case of death of an existing person, failing to bring a new person into existence does not prevent anyone from accomplishing any of her future aims. However, this consideration entails a much stronger idea than the one according to which severely handicapped children should be euthanised. If the death of a newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practise an after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too, given that she has not formed any aim yet...

Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her. This means that many nonhuman animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons...

Those who are only capable of experiencing pain and pleasure (like perhaps fetuses and certainly newborns) have a right not to be inflicted pain. If, in addition to experiencing pain and pleasure, an individual is capable of making any aims (like actual human and non-human persons), she is harmed if she is prevented from accomplishing her aims by being killed. Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims, as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our minds on its potential lives. It might start having expectations and develop a minimum level of self-awareness at a very early stage, but not in the first days or few weeks after birth. On the other hand, not only aims but also well-developed plans are concepts that certainly apply to those people (parents, siblings, society) who could be negatively or positively affected by the birth of that child. Therefore, the rights and interests of the actual people involved should represent the prevailing consideration in a decision about abortion and after-birth abortion."

Their entire argument hinges on newborns not having aims and not being able to attribute value to their existence. Giubilini and Minerva, I ask you, how do you determine if a being has aims?  You say that non-human animals meet your definition of personhood, so that means they can value their existence and have aims. Since they can't talk about their futures, you'd have to judge it by their actions. Maybe you could say a mother wolf values her existence as a mother because she takes action to protect, feed, and teach her cubs. Therefore, if you kill her and deprive her of her existence as a mother wolf and prevent her from achieving her mother wolf aims, then you are harming her.

Actions of animals are driven by instincts applied to individual situations. Instincts influence and many times create their aims and how they value their existence. The same is true of humans. Human beings, despite our large brains, do still have instincts that influence and create aims. Since newborns, like animals, cannot talk, then we would have to use the same sort of observational and analytical process for determining whether they have aims and value their existence. 

Immediately after birth, a newborn (even a premature or low birth weight newborn) placed on her reclined/supine mother will crawl to her mother's breast, find the nipple, and initiating breastfeeding completely on their own with no help from anyone. This is a natural, well-documented action by newborns. The website breastcrawl.org has excellent information on the studies and science behind this, as well as videos. But if you want to see this, you can also just Google "newborn breast crawl." Unfortunately, most babies and mothers in modern societies do not get this opportunity, because newborns are whisked away, weighed, rubbed, and wrapped. 

Newborns value their existence, and have the aim of finding their mother's breast so as to protect their existence. We know they have this aim because they take action and exert considerable effort to achieve it. They have sufficient mental and physical development to process the multitude of new stimuli around them, understand what is significant--the smell and sight of the breast and nipple--and then act to accomplish their aim. If a newborn was taken away and prevented from breastfeeding, she would be aware of that and you would be harming the newborn by preventing her from achieving her aim. Certainly, if a newborn is killed, she is harmed, because her self-valued existence and aims are interrupted. 

The breast crawl is not the only reason I assert that newborns have aims. It's a great example to start with since it is something a newborn is capable of achieving completely on his own. Newborns have an aim to be born in the first place, and work very hard to expel themselves from the womb. The mother also works to birth the baby. But just because a being might need assistance achieving aims doesn't mean that the being doesn't have aims. If a blind person needs help crossing the street that doesn't negate their aim of crossing the street. Since that is their aim and they need help, then they can communicate their need to someone who is capable of helping them. 

A newborn does the exact same thing. Newborns cry, wiggle, turn their heads, root, smack their lips, and do many other idiosyncratic things to communicate their aims. To feed, to wear less/more clothing to adjust their temperature, to be clean and sanitary, to be held/protected to ensure safety and survival, to hear their parents' voices to ensure they're with the right people. These are just a few of the aims of a newborn that they will do everything in their tiny power to achieve. Evolution would have crushed humanity a long time ago if newborns didn't have any aims. And I do mean aims, not just instincts. Newborns develop and learn in the womb, and they acquire skills that will help them with their many aims.

It just AMAZES me that Giubilini and Minerva had the gall to write this paper when they clearly don't know anything about newborns. It's not like the information I'm relating is a big secret, and it's not like it's just my opinion. If they did the slightest bit of research or had the smallest personal experience with newborns, they would never say "A newborn can hardly be said to have aims."

But they did have the gall, regardless of their ignorance. And the funniest part is, they seem to be at least partially aware of their ignorance, given this rich little bit thrown into the conclusion:

"We do not put forward any claim about the moment at which after-birth abortion would no longer be permissible, and we do not think that in fact more than a few days would be necessary for doctors to detect any abnormality in the child. In cases where the after-birth abortion were requested for nonmedical reasons, we do not suggest any threshold, as it depends on the neurological development of newborns, which is something neurologists and psychologists would be able to assess."

Neurologists and psychologists would have to assess the threshold of personhood for newborns. If you don't know enough about newborns to assess even a tentative threshold, then how do you know enough about them to say they're NOT PEOPLE? By your own arguments, newborns certainly are actual persons with a right to life whose interests weigh equally with every other member of their family. But in whatever ridiculous little world you live in, you can only imagine newborns as a terrible burden on society and individual parents. A burden so terrible that you advocate for mothers to be able to kill their own children at a whim.