Archive for November, 2009

And why not? It’s the last ragged remnant of my harvest. The tomatoes visible behind the chard are actually riddled with fungus. They wouldn’t taste like summer anymore, anyway. After taking months to recover from our pair of hungry bunnies, the chard is still bitterly delicious. It apparently enjoys a light flirtation with frost. I hope it’ll still stand tall in ten days, when I return from California.

For now, I’m grateful to have time with my family. Everyone is (reasonably) healthy. None of the various cancers in my family has made an encore appearance. I’m still recovering from last winter’s mystery illness, and as long as I notice continued improvement, my spirits are (mostly) good. My father is clearer-headed than I’d expected. There’s hope that his memory lapses may be at least partly due to a vitamin B12 deficiency, and thus treatable. My niece is recovering well from back-to-back swine flu and a complex bone break that required surgery. My own kids are masquerading as angels, so thrilled are they to be with their cousins and grandparents. My mom still makes the world’s most delicious caramel rolls.

Everything dear to me is as fragile and transient – as tough and resilient – as my garden. My task is to be in the moment, savor the last leaves of the harvest, taste their solid transience, and know that planting time is only weeks away.

Happy Thanksgiving, kind readers. May your blessings taste as sweet as mine.

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Since I’ve been home for the holidays, I’ve availed myself of my mom’s People magazine collection. Actually, she doesn’t buy People very often. She mostly likes the year-end roundups – and, as I noticed this week, the “World’s Hottest Men” issue.

I guess I’m my mother’s daughter, because I like hot men, too. But darn it – of People’s 110 picks, there were just two men older than me who rated individual features: George Clooney (48) and Alec Baldwin (51). Then there were two pages of miniscule pictures devoted to the theme of “hot at any age,” which included one man for every age, up through Gabriel Byrne at 59. So that added another 10 “older”men who were in their fifties. They were quite evidently only included to make the politically correct point that men over 50 can be handsome, provided you only look at tiny headshots that don’t cross the dangerous threshold of 59, after which all hotness apparently plunges off a cliff. It’s a pity, because the aged-59 slot was occupied by Gabriel Byrne, whom I rather like and would prefer not to see fall off a precipice.

Now, I’m not actively averse to People’s number 1 hottie,  Johnny Depp, who’s just my age (46). I positively adore Robert Downey, Jr. (44 but perpetually endangered), and I plan to enjoy him for as long as he can stay alive and out of rehab. Harry Connick (42) is charming and a pretty decent musician. George Clooney (48) is sexy, smart, and classy. Any list that includes him can’t be all wrong.

Otherwise, though, I wasn’t taken by the list so much as taken aback. Suddenly, it seems as though men, too, have to be young to be hot. Or maybe it wasn’t so sudden, and I just wasn’t paying attention? And what’s with all the hair product, fer goodness’ sake? Since when did plastic become sexy? Dudes who wear more hair gloop than I should just go ahead and get themselves laminated.

I’m still all in favor of women enjoying men’s visual charms, but if boy toys now must be actual boys, we’re all going to miss out on a lot of fun and beauty. And yet, that appears to be the trend. A few months ago, I groused about how the young blokes featured in Filament magazine were, well, very young. I’m now starting to grasp where they fit in the overall pantheon of contemporary male beauty. They rock more of an alt-aesthetic, but their general youthfulness is actually perfectly mainstream. (Suraya of Filament pointed out in comments to a later post that they plan to include more older models in future issues. I think that’s a wonderful plan, and I also admire the thoughtfulness Suraya’s investing in Filament’s development.)

Of course the tyranny of youth is nothing new for women. But while turnaround may be fair play, it’s not fun play. It’s limiting for heterosexual women and men, alike. In my mid-forties, I really dig men a few years older (as well as a few years younger). But with the fifty-plus men already mostly disqualified from hotness, what will I do when I’m a randy old gal in my seventies? My mother (who’s north of 70, herself) agrees with me that George Clooney is the bee’s knees. It’d be lovely if he could inspire a new appreciation not only for older men’s charms – as, in fact, I thought Paul Newman had already done – and for older women’s sexiness, too. And yes, at least some men appreciate women over forty and fifty. Just to pick one data point, my husband digs Sandra Bullock and Madonna as much as ever.

So what would it take to turn the trend around, and celebrate our potential for sexiness at every age, for every gender? Short of a revolution in which we seize control of the media, that is?

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From the better-late-than-never department: I’ve been getting questions in real life about how I view the new mammogram guidelines, so I might as well weigh in on them here, too.

The new guidelines are only the culmination of years of research that has demolished the belief that routine mammograms for women in their forties will save lives. I’ve been following the medical debates on early detection of breast cancer ever since a Danish metastudy challenged the efficacy of routine screening mammography back in 2001; Gina Kolata reported on this study for the New York Times, and she’s done a fabulous job of following the controversy ever since. Feminist advocacy groups, such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition, have long questioned the advisability of regular mammograms for women under 50. Basically, mammograms pick up a lot of false positives and miss a lot of actual tumors. They also result in treatment of cancers that may never become dangerous. For breast cancer (unlike, say, colon cancer), early detection is no panacea because cancer cells often metastasize very early on. The scientific evidence really is pretty compelling. I’m not going to dissect it here, but see Our Bodies, Our Blogs and Echidne as well as the excellent and very thorough analysis by the NBCC.)

Instead, I’m going to tease apart some myths and misconceptions that have muddied the debate. Most are coming from those who’ve criticized the new guidelines. (And no, I’m not even going to bother with Rushbo’s revival of the death panel canard; Echidne snarked it into oblivion already.)

First, the new guidelines have been accused of being racist, as in this post at Feministing. Note, though, that the guidelines in no way discourage routine screening of women who are at higher than average risk; instead, they propose evaluating each woman’s particular risk. Compared to other ethnic groups, black women are indeed at higher risk of developing breast cancer in their forties. The new guidelines are thus simply inapplicable to black women, since they only address women who are at low risk. Black women should definitely get routine screening earlier than white women. By now physicians should be aware that breast cancer discriminates by race; to the extent that they’re still clueless, what’s needed is better awareness through continuing medical education. The new guidelines call for individualized risk assessment, not cookie-cutter methods. If this doesn’t work for women of color – and I agree there’s a chance that it won’t – then the problem isn’t the new guidelines, it’s that racism, ignorance, and profit-based medicine are interfering with individualized care.

Second, the media is teeming with heart-rending stories about women who find a lump and who wouldn’t have gotten diagnosed under the new guidelines. While stories about the human costs of cancer are really important, these stories are completely irrelevant to the debate. If you find a lump, your doctor will send you for a diagnostic mammogram. The new guidelines only address screening mammograms, which are done at regular intervals without any reason to suspect cancer. The new guidelines say nothing about diagnostic mammograms, which have never been controversial.

Third, the new guidelines don’t have any binding power. I do think it’s reasonable to worry that insurers will refuse to cover mammograms for women under 50, just because insurers are always looking for ways to cut costs. That would be a gross misapplication of the guidelines, which call for women and their doctors to decide whether screening mammograms are right for them. I’m fairly sanguine about this, though, because the breast cancer lobby is strong enough – and the public outcry loud enough – that insurers are far more likely to cut corners elsewhere.

Fourth, there’s no evidence that the revised guidelines are motivated by sexism. Routine PSA screening for men has recently been challenged on very similar grounds. While prostate cancer survivors have been just as skeptical as breast cancer survivors when it comes to decreasing early detection efforts, they haven’t enjoyed a similar bully pulpit. Nor have men in general risen up in protest. Perhaps Sir Charles of Cogitamus is right in linking this apparent apathy to more basic tenets of masculinity:

Not to engage in gender essentialism, but I think this may have to do with the fact that men are always comfortable with a recommendation that reinforces our tendency toward denial in these kinds of matters — oh the test is no good — great, I’ll skip it. (Or maybe I’m just projecting.)

At any rate, men and women face similar issues here, not fundamentally different ones. The conversation about what we gain and lose through massive screening campaigns is one that both men and women ought to be having.

Proponents of the new guidelines (including Echidne, whom I otherwise agree with) are also making one wobbly assumption: that funds not spent on screening mammograms will be redirected to areas where we’ll get more health for the buck. I’m skeptical. Insurance coverage of mammograms has been mandated by law. If those laws should change (and I’d be surprised if they did), insurance companies would more likely divert the funding for mammograms straight to their bottom line (see point three above). They’re looking to cut corners wherever they can. Sober policy analysis of costs and benefits needs to take good old fashioned greed into account, too.

So by all means, let’s have a debate about the limits and possibilities of early detection and huge screening campaigns. But let’s have it on the basis of facts, rather than using the new guidelines as a Rorschach blot for our hopes and fears. (I have more to say about those fears, but that’ll have to wait for another day.)

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California Dreamin’

Posting may be irregular over the next couple of weeks. I’m visiting family in California, and WordPress mixes with dial-up like cats mix with dogs. They’re not wholly incompatible; there’s just a lot of hissing involved.

I’ll try to post when I get a chance, but in the meantime, know that I’m having fun reconnecting with family, eating my mom’s famous caramel rolls, and watching my kids play with their only cousins – my sister’s kids, who are the same age as mine. I’ll also be digging my way out of end-of-quarter grading, but the caramel rolls will make the work a smidge more tolerable.

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Wigged Out Caturday

From the annals of things you never imagined you needed: a wig for your cat.


This lovely model – a pink version of the wig Flip Wilson wore as his female alter-ego, Geraldine – is unfortunately sold out. And what a pity! To quote the Kitty Wigs! website: “Pink makes your kitty feel elegant, modern and quintessentially feline.”


Maybe your cat has more of a Pippi Longstocking personality?


Then there’s the rainbow look, purrfect for those kitties who like the Grateful Dead.

Of course, your average cat will look at the wig and think: fabulous new toy! Sadly, sadly, it’s not to be:

Please remember, Kitty Wigs should only be used with human supervision, and introduced slowly. When not in use, the wig should always be stored in its pawproof case.

If you need inspiration for your feline fashions, there’s a book, too.

Happy Caturday!

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Yippee! I am always tickled to hear that yet another ostensibly bad-for-you food has been Officially Declared Healthy. Today, it’s chocolate milk, according to the New York Times.

Move over, red wine. Make room for chocolate milk. A new study suggests that regular consumption of skim milk with flavonoid-rich cocoa may reduce inflammation, potentially slowing or preventing development of atherosclerosis. Researchers noted, however, that the effect was not as pronounced as that seen with red wine.

Contrary to my usual practice, I am not going to even try to hunt down the original study. The NYT reports that it was done in Barcelona on people aged 55 and up, and that it also found cocoa elevated levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL). Also, my time is limited; while I was reading this article, the Bear popped downstairs (it was only 10:45, why on earth would he be asleep?) and extracted a promise that he and his little brother would get regular doses of chocolate milk, since they aren’t exactly eligible for red wine.

Instead, I am going to develop a personal action plan. I don’t have a personal trainer. This is as good as it’s gonna get.

1) Keep riding my bike to work, as this is my only defense against complete slothitude.

2) Stop parceling out my homemade mochas as if they were a special treat, and start considering them a staple food. Skim milk from happy cows with vitamin D + Hershey’s special dark syrup + Trader Joe’s Five-Country Fair Trade espresso brimming with antioxidants = live to be 112!

(My breskit of champions, photographed by me, Sungold)

3) Drink more red wine and less white. And no, adding food color to the white will not do the trick.

4) Await the day when the health benefits of martinis are announced. I don’t drink them often. I don’t expect the good news imminently. But I am a patient woman.

What about you, dear reader? What supposed vice would you love to see declared healthy?

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So now that a sex tape – or eight of ‘em – have torpedoed Carrie Prejean’s career as the pretty face of the anti-marriage equality movement, I have a suggestion for what she might do next.

What if Prejean were to become the pretty face – no, the pretty Christian face! – of a pro-masturbation campaign? No snarking here, folks; I’m dead serious.

Remember how, way back in 1994, Bill Clinton fired Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders after she advocated teaching kids to masturbate? Elders was onto a perfectly good idea. She regarded self-loving as a safe alternative to a lot of the other things teenagers get up to. And even though Clinton was a perfect hypocrite for firing her, she was right, doggone it. Here’s how Elders reflected on her experience in 1997:

In this so-called “communications age,” it remains a sexual taboo of monumental proportions to discuss the safe and universal sexual practice of self-pleasure. No doubt, future generations will be amused at our peculiar taboo, laughing in sociology classes at our backwardness, yet also puzzled by it given our high rates of disease and premature pregnancy. We will look foolish in the light of history.

(More of Elders’ righteous goodness at Nerve.com)

Maybe it’s time for us to catch up with history. Here’s where Prejean could play a pivotal role. She could go on Larry King and say, “I’m not here to talk about that tape, which my asshole ex had no right to release. But I will say this: What I did on that tape was perfectly normal. Self-pleasure is perfectly compatible with my Christian beliefs. It’s a great way to get to know your body before you’re ready for partnered sex. It’s a wonderful way to extend your pleasure with a partner. If you’re waiting for marriage to have intercourse, masturbation can help you wait, and you’ll be a better lover when you do say yes.”

I’m still not snarking. If we could just get all those “good Christians” to admit they do it, all of us might be able to have open conversations about it without anyone getting fired or censored. Myself, I have no patience for abstinence vows, which I see as a way to police female sexuality, but all those girls wearing purity rings are the audience most in need of permission to explore and love their own bodies.

And for the record, “asshole” is a mild word for Prejean’s ex. “Sexual assailant” is more like it. I’ve been arguing since last spring that disseminating someone’s naked pictures without their consent ought to be punished as a form of sexual assault. It’s heartening to see that other bloggers are coming to similar conclusions (see these posts by Amanda Marcotte and Jeff Fecke). Now we just need a few legislators to pick up the ball and run with it.

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